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."