South Korean ruling party upset in vote

South Korea's ruling party won the key Seoul mayoral poll but suffered upsets in several other local elections held amid tensions over North Korea's alleged torpedoing of a navy ship, officials said Thursday.

Before Wednesday's vote, opinion polls and analysts said outrage over the ship's sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors in March, would give a boost to the conservative ruling Grand National Party, which favors a tough North Korea policy.

Pre-election public surveys had suggested Lee's party would win nine of the 16 key races.

But with 99 percent of votes counted early Thursday, President Lee Myung-bak's party won only six of the 16 key mayoral and gubernatorial posts. Its chief rival, the liberal Democratic Party, obtained seven. The remaining three posts were shared by a small opposition party and two independent candidates.

Chung Mong-joon, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, attends a meeting of the party leaders at its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 3, 2010.

An analysis piece in Thursday's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the sinking of the Cheonan had whipped up anti-North Korea sentiment, but many conservative voters didn't bother to vote. The Dong-a Ilbo, another major newspaper, said the resulting crisis appeared to have calmed down in the days before the election.

In the Seoul race, the ruling party incumbent and a potential presidential aspirant, Oh Se-hoon, narrowly defeated the Democratic Party's Han Myung-sook, the nation's first female prime minister under the government of former President Roh Moo-hyun. The race had been too close to call and Oh was declared the winner more than 10 hours after ballot counting started.

"I'll accept today's victory with a humble position that I had almost lost," Oh said, according to Yonhap news agency.

Ruling party chief Chung Mong-joon and his top deputies offered to resign Thursday to take the responsibility for defeats in many of the local elections, according to his office.

Voter Hwang Jong-hwan, 28, a barber, said domestic issues influenced his vote more than the ship incident.

"Just like what the Americans always say," he said, "it's the economy, stupid."

source AFP

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