Ahn Cheol-soo’s party emerges as major force in assembly: exit poll

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Ahn Cheol-soo’s party emerges as major force in assembly: exit poll

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The moods varied at the headquarters of the three top political parties Wednesday evening after results of an exit poll for the general election were announced by broadcasters. Top: Saenuri Party leaders, including floor leader Rep. Won Yoo-chul, second from left, show serious faces. Middle: The Minjoo Party of Korea, including its interim Chairman Kim Chong-in, second from right, applaud as they watch. Bottom: Leaders of the People’s Party including Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, center, welcome the exit poll announcement. [NEWSIS]

Korea’s lengthy political tradition of a two-party system based on regionalism, class and ideology was altered in the general election Wednesday as voters around the country showed unexpectedly strong support for a third party - Ahn Cheol-soo’s People’s Party.
Voters nationwide cast ballots to elect the 20th National Assembly on Wednesday. Of the 300-member legislature, 253 will be lawmakers representing electoral districts and 47 will be proportional representatives named by political parties. Voting took place from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m., and turnout was 58 percent, the National Election Commission.

As of press time, the Saenuri Party was expected to lose its majority, according to an exit poll jointly conducted by three major broadcasters: the Korea Broadcasting System, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation and Seoul Broadcasting System. According to the poll, the Saenuri Party was expected to win 147 seats at most, while the Minjoo Party of Korea was forecast to win up to 128 seats. The People’s Party was expected to clinch as many as 43.

All three broadcasters received the same data from the joint exit poll, but they interpret the raw numbers differently. The projections are, therefore, different for each broadcaster.

KBS projected that the Saenuri would win 121 to 143 seats, the Minjoo 101 to 123, the People’s Party 34 to 41 and the Justice Party 5 to 6. MBC forecast that the Saenuri would win 118 to 136, the Minjoo 107 to 128, the People’s Party 32 to 42. SBS expected the Saenuri to win 123 to 147 seats, the Minjoo 97 to 120 and the People’s Party 31 to 43.

The exit poll was conducted at 2,500 voting stations around the country by questioning 650,000 voters. Exit polls by broadcasters were conducted since 1996, but they often failed to project accurate outcomes, especially when many races were tight, as they were in Wednesday’s general election.

In addition, Wednesday’s exit poll did not include early voters from last Friday and Saturday, who account for 5.13 million votes or 12.2 percent of registered voters. Their votes could significantly alter the results.

If the projections hold up, it will be the first time in 16 years that liberal opposition lawmakers will outnumber the ruling party in the legislature, and as a result, President Park Geun-hye will struggle through the remainder of her term, which ends in Feb. 2018.
In the 2012 election for the 19th National Assembly, turnout was 54.2 percent. At the time, the Saenuri Party secured 152 seats, the Democratic United Party (the processor of the Minjoo Party) won 127 seats. The Unified Progressive Party, now disbanded for its pro-North Korea affiliation, won 13 and the Liberty Forward Party, a Chungcheong-based conservative splinter party of the Saenuri, won five. Three seats were won by independents.

The next legislature will be divided among three major parties- the Saenuri, Minjoo and the People’s Party - for the first time in 20 years. The 1996 general election was a contest among three political giants. The New Korea Party of the incumbent President Kim Young-sam, the predecessor of the Saenuri, won 121 seats in the 253-member legislature, the National Congress for New Politics of future president Kim Dae-jung won 66 and the United Liberal Democrats of veteran politician Kim Jong-pil won 41.

After the exit poll projections were announced Wednesday, the Saenuri Party reacted with shock. The leadership watched broadcasts at party headquarters in Yeouido and could not hide their disappointments. Before the broadcasts, the ruling party was not expected to lose its majority. Chairman Kim Moo-sung was conspicuously absent from headquarters because he was hospitalized for fatigue from the campaign.

“No matter what outcome it will be, we respect the people’s choice,” said Ahn Hyoung-hwan, spokesman for the Saenuri campaign. “We will serve the people’s will with more humble attitudes. We will pray with our hearts until the final outcome is announced.”

Throughout the campaign, the Saenuri Party repeatedly said its goal was winning 180 seats, a magic number that would allow contentious bills to be designated as fast-track deliberation items to skip complicated negotiation procedures. If the projection are true, the party won’t even have enough seats to open a voting session.
The Minjoo Party was sanguine after the exit polls were announced. Kim Chong-in, the interim chairman of the party and chief of its campaign, smiled after the broadcasters projected that the party would win as many as 128 seats. “As we see the exit polls, we can feel once again how sharp public sentiment is,” Kim said. “I will continue watching the ballot counting humbly.”

It appeared that the political experiment of software tycoon-turned-lawmaker Ahn succeeded, and his People’s Party is expected to secure enough seats to form a negotiation bloc inside the National Assembly and become the third largest power in the legislature. Despite its short history, the People’s Party, established by Ahn at the end of last year after he quit the Minjoo Party, is expected to secure the right to send representatives to legislative negotiations.

The Saenuri Party and the Minjoo Party – in previous incarnations and under different names -- have dominated Korean politics for decades with deeply-rooted regionalism. The Saenuri is supported by Gyeongsang provinces and Busan, while the Minjoo’s stronghold is Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces. The Minjoo also enjoyed popularity in the working-class districts of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi. The Saenuri is conservative, meaning pro-business and anti-North Korea, while the Minjoo is liberal, anti-Big Business and in favor of engaging North Korea.

After broadcasters forcast that the Saenuri would lose its majority, Ahn commented, “It’s because we snatched Saenuri’s votes.” Ahn watched the exit poll broadcasts at his party’s headquarters with other cheering officials.

President Park Geun-hye, wearing a red jacket -- the signature color of the ruling party -- casted her ballot Wednesday morning. She was initially to participate in the early voting on Friday, when she traveled outside the capital to visit creative economy centers in North Chungcheong and North Jeolla provinces, but the plan was canceled as concerns grew that the move would be seen as an attempt to influence the election.

Major economic organizations including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued statements asking the new National Assembly to open an “era of $40,000 gross national income.” Korea’s gross national income is about $27,000. After reaching $20,000 in 2006, it failed to go over $30,000 for nine consecutive years as the country’s key electronics, automotive and chemical industries slowed down.

Meanwhile, the National Election Commission said its Internet site, particularly the polling station search service, sustained cyberattacks for three minutes Wednesday afternoon. The commission said its security system blocked the attacks and the service operated normally. The commission said it asked the National Police Agency to launch an investigation.


BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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