Elections set new political balance in Korea

Elections set new political balance in Korea
(Left) Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (NPAD), (right) Seoul education chief-elect Cho Hi-yeon.

The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy will confront a slew of challenges ahead with neither side gaining a clear advantage in Wednesday's local elections.

The NPAD took nine of the 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial races including Seoul, which went to Park Won-soon, who will soon begin his second term, while the ruling party took eight.

In races for lower-level administrative posts and seats in metropolitan, provincial and lower-level assemblies, however, the ruling party crushed the opposition.

Results show that the ruling party candidates will take office as chiefs of nearly half of lower-level administrations. In addition, conservative legislators are set to dominate the assemblies of metropolitan and provincial assemblies, breaking the long-held tradition of the opposition bloc holding sway in such bodies.

Progressive candidates swept the elections for local educational chiefs, signaling a major change in school policies toward a more egalitarian approach.

Cho Hi-yeon, once considered the outsider in the race for Seoul education superintendent, pulled off an upset as a bitter family feud wrecked the campaign of his conservative rival. Including Seoul, voters in 13 of the 17 metropolitan and provincial areas opted for progressive education chiefs.

Although the main opposition's wins in major local administrations outnumbered those of the ruling party, the NPAD lost both Incheon and Gyeonggi Province despite earlier projections that its candidates stood a high chance of winning.

The presidential office said Thursday it would accept the election results. "The will of the people contained in each vote will be humbly taken and (the administration) will do its utmost in national modification to make a new Korea," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Min Kyung-wook said Thursday.

"The results, which contain many meanings at a time the nation is going through difficulties, are the will of the people."

The elections were seen as a referendum on the administration in the wake of the April 16 ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing. The government has been sharply criticised for its poor handling of the accident.

As such, the main opposition had appealed for voters' support for its candidates, emphasizing safety and accusing the government and the ruling party of incompetence and irresponsibility.

The ruling party, in contrast, asked for voters' support, claiming that putting its candidates in office would give the Park Geun-hye administration the strength it needs to drive national reform.

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