Liberals win S. Korea elections for first time in four decades

Published April 15, 2004

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean voters broke the
conservatives’ four-decade grip on parliament yesterday,
bringing to power a liberal party that opposed the
president’s impeachment and may seek closer ties to North
Korea.

The election completes a momentous shift in South Korean
politics, where conservative-dominated legislatures have checked
its few progressive presidents, including President Roh
Moo-hyun.

The Uri Party, which had only 49 seats in the outgoing assembly,
seized 152, a slim majority in the 299-seat chamber, the National
Election Commission confirmed Friday.

Its main rival, the conservative Grand National Party, took only
121 seats. The party, which traces its roots to South Korea’s
military dictatorship era, had 137 spots in the previous
assembly.

Yesterday’s win for Uri, which backs Roh, could strengthen
his hand as the Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold his
March 12 impeachment on charges of incompetence and illegal
electioneering.

It was South Korea’s first impeachment since its founding
in 1948.

“This election means that the political forces that have
dominated South Korean politics for 44 years are forced to leave
the stage,” Uri chief Chung Dong-young said.

Prime Minister Goh Kun — acting president the court
decides Roh’s fate — pledged economic and political
stability Friday morning in response to the election results.

He urged parties to end their “politics of confrontation
and conflict” and said it was time for the nation to focus on
economic recovery. Without referring directly to South
Korea’s planned troop dispatch to Iraq, Goh also pledged that
the government would stand by earlier promises.

However, the Democratic Labor Party, which won unprecedented
seats in the elections, pledged Friday to submit a bill that would
cancel South Korea’s planned dispatch of 3,600 troops to
Iraq.

The party, backed largely by labor unions that have been the
most vociferous critics of plans to send the troops, won 10 seats,
becoming the No. 3 parliamentary group. It has none in the outgoing
parliament.

“I urgently propose that leaders of political parties meet
to discuss retracting the decision to send troops to Iraq,”
party Kwon Young-kil told reporters. “If this matter is not
resolved soon, our party will submit a bill canceling the troop
dispatch as soon as the new National Assembly
inaugurates.”

Another small opposition party, the Millennium Democratic Party,
wanted the dispatch reconsidered. That party will only have nine
seats in the new assembly.

Passage of any anti-dispatch bill would be difficult since both
the Uri Party and the Grand National Party support the troop
deployment.