Open Party eyeing majority
Our Open Party, six months ago a small political splinter faction, emerged triumphant yesterday from the National Assembly elections to become a powerful voice of a younger generation, pushing aside a conservative establishment that held legislative sway in Korea for more than 50 years.
As remaining votes were being counted last night, the Open Party was winning a majority in the parliament, its candidates riding to power on the back of public anger over the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun by the opposition Grand National and Millennium Democratic parties.
The Open Party appeared last night to have won as many as 129 districts of 243 at stake and seized up to 22 seats on the basis of the proportion of the vote it received. If the numbers hold, the Open Party would have a majority with a two-seat margin in the 299-member legislature.
With such support for Mr. Roh’s allies, voters sought to give a mandate to the president, who is suspended while the country’s Constitutional Court weighs the impeachment case against him.
Mr. Roh has said that he regarded the election as a referendum on his administration. Many have suggested the Constitutional Court will now act to restore Mr. Roh’s control of the Blue House.
The Grand National Party, which held an absolute majority in the last Assembly, fell into second place with around 100 seats, its effort to unseat Mr. Roh backfiring spectacularly.
With only 49 lawmakers in the last session of the National Assembly, the Open Party lacked the numbers to block passage of the opposition’s impeachment bill on March 12.
Yesterday, voters cast two ballots. One was to select a lawmaker for their constituency; the other was a vote for a political party, which determined how the Assembly’s 56 proportional seats were distributed among the parties. The results showed that regionalism, long a potent force in Korean politics appears to be waning with generational divisions becoming more pronounced.
“The people saved democracy. The people saved the president,” said a delighted Chung Dong-young, chairman of Our Open Party. “The old forces which controlled the National Assembly over the past 44 years have left the stage.”
Even if Our Open Party commands a majority, political confrontations over such issues as North Korea, the U.S. alliance, labor and the economy can be expected.
Our Open Party was launched last November, when it split from the Millennium Democratic Party, which had brought former President Kim Dae-jung to power. Mr. Roh came from nowhere a little more than a year ago when he won the presidency in an extremely tight election against the establishment Grand National Party’s candidate Lee Hoi-chang.
The Open Party has sought more equitable relations with the United States, while pursuing a policy of active economic and social engagement with North Korea. The party supported the Roh administration’s agreement with the United States to deploy an additional 3,000 troops to Iraq, but objected to sending combat troops. The party’s economic policy focuses on creating more jobs to revive the nation’s sagging economy.
A surprise was the strong result of the Democratic Labor Party, which has never held a seat before. The party, launched only four years ago, won as many than 10 seats inside the National Assembly. The party won at least two constituency seats and nine through proportional representation. The party’s chairman Kwon Young-ghil, who ran for the 2002 presidential election, said “I will do my best to lead this nation’s new politics.”
The Millennium Democrats failed to win enough seats for a negotiating bloc inside the Assembly. It had 61 seats in the outgoing session of the National Assembly. The United Liberal Democrats also failed to meet the 20-seat requirement to form a negotiating bloc.
Rebounding from voter disgust with the impeachment, the Grand Nationals secured second place. The party had 137 seats in the 273-member outgoing legislature, but its support plummeted after it impeached President Roh, and after its lawmakers were indicted after taking slush funds from big business.
“Thank you for the support,” said Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye. “We will correct all our shortcomings to be reborn as a reliable political party.”
Ms. Park had softened the party’s conservative image and hawkish North Korea policy.
More than half of the new Assembly will be filled with first-term lawmakers, the results of ballot counting indicated.
by Ser Myo-ja