Ruling party roiled by crushing defeat in by-elections

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Ruling party roiled by crushing defeat in by-elections

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Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu celebrates his victory in the Bundang’s legislative by-election on Wednesday night. [YONHAP]

The ruling party suffered a humiliating defeat in Wednesday's by-elections, heralding a political upheaval ahead of next year's general and presidential polls.

In the most closely-watched contest in the conservative stronghold of Bundang, south of Seoul, Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, earned 51 percent of the ballots, narrowly defeating Kang Jae-sup, former head of the ruling Grand National Party.

Sohn's win bolstered his profile as a potential presidential candidate, expanding his power base to the affluent suburb.

"I think this is an order from voters who yearn for a change," Sohn said, surrounded by his supporters. "Taking my victory as a call for change, I will make efforts from now on. I feel heavy responsibility."

Choi Moon-soon of the DP won a governor seat in Gangwon Province over Ohm Ki-young of the GNP, brightening the DP's prospects in the region for the general elections next year.

The rival candidates with similar backgrounds -- both of whom were born in the province and served as presidents of broadcaster MBC before entering politics -- jostled for the governorship that has remained empty since Lee Kwang-jae of the DP lost his seat following a bribery conviction.

In Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, Kim Tae-ho, formerly governor of the province, made a successful return to politics, with a come-from-behind victory against unified opposition candidate Lee Bong-soo of the fledgling minor People's Participatory Party.

He was nominated as prime minister in August last year, but he gave up the nomination amid alleged ethical lapses revealed during confirmation hearings.

Kim's win was more meaningful for the GNP as many people in Gimhae still have nostalgia for late former president Roh Moo-hyun. He committed suicide there in 2009 under a prosecution probe into a corruption scandal involving him and his family.

"It was a tough victory," harsh-throated Kim said. "I learned that we should try more to understand sufferings by middle-class people over livelihood matters. I'll do my best to serve my people who believed in me."

In the opposition's stronghold Suncheon in South Jeolla Province, the unified opposition candidate Kim Seon-dong of the minor progressive Democratic Labor Party overwhelmed six other independent contenders. The GNP did not field any candidate as it saw no chance of winning there.

Political watchers said the GNP's defeat added burden to President Lee Myung-bak haunted by the specter of an early lame duck. The GNP is expected to come under growing pressure to change its leadership, they added.

"We will humbly accept the people's mind represented in this election," the GNP spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan said in a statement. "We will take this election as a stepping stone to leap further so as to lead the general elections and presidential race next year."

Wednesday's polls recorded a higher-than-expected voter turnout at 39.4 percent among 3.2 million eligible voters who cast their ballots for three parliamentary representatives, one governor and other 34 heads and councilors of local government heads.

The figure marks a 6.6-percent surge from the average turnout of 32.8 percent since 2000, when extra elections began to take place twice a year on a regular basis, despite early morning rain considered a discouraging factor for polls.

"It seems that voters were largely interested in how the election results may affect in the political landscape in the future," said Im Sang-ryeol, president of the polling agency Research Plus. "Candidacy by political heavyweights could have also brought voters' attention, compared with
previous by-elections." YONHAP

‘분당 우파’의 반란

경기도 성남시 분당의 인구는 40만 명이다. ‘분당을’이란 국회의원 선거구가 생긴 이래 한나라당은 국회의원 선거에서 세 번 연속 승리했다. 2008년 총선 때 이곳에선 한나라당 임태희(현 대통령실장) 후보에게 71%의 표를 몰아줬다. 분당(갑·을 포함)에는 4년제 대학졸업 학력 이상을 지닌 인구의 비율이 43%나 된다. 석사 과정을 마친 유권자만 2만7000여 명이 산다. 그런 분당이 여당에 반란을 일으킨 것일까. <관계기사 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 22, 27면>

 4·27 재·보선 개표 결과 성남 분당을에선 민주당 손학규 후보가 한나라당 강재섭 후보를, 강원도지사 선거에선 민주당 최문순 후보가 한나라당 엄기영 후보를 각각 누르고 당선됐다. 경남 김해을에선 한나라당 김태호 후보가 국민참여당 이봉수 후보를 2%포인트 차이로 따돌려 한나라당은 가까스로 전패를 면했다. 전남 순천시에선 야권 단일후보인 민주노동당 김선동 후보가 승리했다.

 한나라당은 분당을과 강원도에서 패하자 패닉 상태에 빠져들었다. 당내에선 “내년 총선에서 전통적 강세 지역인 서울동남벨트(서초·강남·송파·강동구)을 비롯해 어느 곳도 승리를 장담할 수 없게 됐다”는 얘기가 나왔다. 소장파 의원 모임인 ‘민본21’ 소속의 현기환 의원은 “국민이 당을 거부한 것”이라며 “이제는 당의 모든 걸 바꿔야 한다”고 말했다.

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