Asia-Pacific

South Korea

President Roh's Party Suffers Huge Election Loss

South Koreans watch the local election news while traveling on the subway train in Seoul. (Photo: Kim Jae-hwan / AFP-Getty Images)

The results of the May 31 elections simply couldn't have been any worse for the Roh administration in South Korea. In both the mayoral and local council elections Roh's party lost almost 70 percent of the votes, as well as all of the mayoral seats, apart from one in North Jolla province.

Although the party leader, Chung Dong-young has already resigned over the election results, there is a serious danger that the ruling party itself is about to break up, leaving the Roh administration without any political support base.

On hearing the news of his party's loss Thursday evening as exit polls clearly indicated that his party had not even won a single council seat in the capital, President Roh Mu-hyun, supposedly "let out a deep sigh and was not able to bring his disappointment to words" according to sources in the Blue House.

Uri party members were shocked to hear that their party leader, until now a likely presidential candidate, had stepped down on Thursday morning.

In a speech, Chung said, "[We] must accept the people's punishment of our party in a prudent and humble manner … we have failed to win public approval of our policies."

The party received another shock today as the former prime minister Goh Geon — an extremely popular public figure — announced he was recruiting pragmatic reformists to create a new bipartisan group. The new political party is intended to be the driving force behind Goh's planned bid for the 2007 presidential election.

"I intend to bring together Korea's moderate reformists, so that we can create a new era of pragmatic politics," Goh announced to reporters today.

Ironically, just before the May 31 elections, the Uri party had attempted to bring Goh into the party, but it is likely now that most Uri party members will rush to join his new organization.

A major weakness of the Uri party was that it was largely the creation of a factional spat between M.D.P. members after the Roh's surprise election victory four years ago, when Roh decided not to share power with his home party.

The party split in two. As the M.D.P. impeached the president, the new faction created the Uri party, later officially recognized by the president as the new ruling party.

Although the Uri party went on to win most of the seats in elections the following month, in its short history it has always suffered from a lack of unity within its own ranks. There have been 13 leaders in the last three years.

The latest party chairman, Chung was considered to be the most charismatic and popular figure in the party, and its prime candidate for the 2007 election. This hope now seems dashed. As leader of the party during the May 31 election, with hardly a single win in the whole country, Chung took personal responsibility for election canvassing and consequently the resulting losses.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the routing of the Uri party though is the fate of the Roh administration. If the Uri party dissolves as predicted, with members flocking to Goh's new party, then the president will be left with very little support in the Assembly house, and is likely to become a lame-duck president.

It is not unusual in Korean politics for the president to serve out his last year in office on a quiet note. Both former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam made very few policy changes in their final year. However, the current administration has still 18 months to go. According to analysts, a lame-duck administration in power for a prolonged period could negatively impact the economy and political health of the nation.

From OhmyNews International.

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