Main opposition heading for stunning victory in local electionsSouth Korea's main opposition party looked set for a surprise victory in local elections, dealing a blow to President Lee Myung-bak's reform drive and tough stance on North Korea.
The liberal Democratic Party (DP) is certain to win at least six mayoral and gubernatorial posts, while the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) secured five seats, according to data by the National Election Commission.
The races for Seoul mayor and governor of South Chungcheong Province were too close to call until early Thursday morning, while independent candidates were expected to score victories in South Gyeongsang Province and Jeju Province. The minor opposition Liberty Forward Party won in the Daejeon mayoral race.
Regardless of the results of the Seoul race, the DP claimed a victory in the elections, widely seen as a mid-term referendum on Lee's leadership.
"The people handed a solemn judgment to the Lee Myung-bak administration and the GNP," DP spokesman Woo Sang-ho said in a statement.
It is a "public verdict against the Lee government's arrogance and self-righteousness" and a victory for the entire opposition bloc, he added.
The GNP and the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, said it was still early to formally talk about the results of the elections.
The first nationwide polls in two years here were to pick about 4,000 posts, including provincial governors, mayors, councilors and education chiefs by 39 million eligible voters.
A DP victory would end a winning streak by the conservative GNP in recent nationwide elections and herald a rough road for the remainder of Lee's presidency. His single five-year term is to finish in early 2013. It also brightens liberals' hope for regaining presidential power.
The DP is further emboldened by triumphs in Gangwon Province, where the GNP had been traditionally favored. Kim Doo-gwan, an independent who had served as a home affairs minister under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, was also heading for a victory in South Gyeongsang Province, a decades-old stronghold of the GNP.
The elections came as military tension was running high on the peninsula after South Korea accused the communist North of sinking one of its warships with an unprovoked torpedo attack in March. Forty-six sailors died in the incident. How to deal with North Korea is a traditionally hot election issue in the ideologically divided South.
Lee announced a set of retaliatory steps including the suspension of all but inter-Korean exchanges, and Pyongyang responded with threats of war.
The DP claimed Lee and his conservative party have put national security at risk by taking a confrontational approach towards Pyongyang. Other issues such as Lee's push for refurbishing South Korea's four major rivers and his alternative to a contentious project to create a new administrative town in a central region have been sidelined.
As expected, meanwhile, the rival parties attained easy wins in their respective power bases, reflecting persistent regionalism.
Kim Kwan-yong of the GNP easily succeeded in re-election as governor of North Gyeongsang Province, a decades-old stronghold of the party. Park Joon-young of the DP also was re-elected as governor of South Jeolla Province.
The GNP also clinched the Daegu mayorship, while the DP won the Gwangju mayoral competition.
An independent candidate, Woo Keun-min, was declared the winner of the gubernatorial post on the southern resort island of Jeju.
Voter turnout for Wednesday's elections was provisionally tallied at 54.5 percent, the highest in 15 years for local elections, the NEC said, despite worries over growing indifference to politics, especially among young voters. [Yonhap]