President takes day off to absorb polls defeat

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President takes day off to absorb polls defeat

The Blue House is reeling from an election that produced a liberal majority in the National Assembly, and President Park Geun-hye’s hardest times in office appear before her.

With 22 months left in her term, Park is looking at an early lame duck status. For the first time in 16 years, liberal opposition lawmakers will outnumber conservatives in the legislature and command a majority if liberal parties join forces.

Park officially left her schedule free on Thursday to digest Wednesday’s elections, which resulted in the Saenuri Party winning only 122 seats, short of a majority and falling behind the Minjoo Party’s 123 seats.

The People’s Party, headed by Ahn Cheol-soo, won 38 seats, leveraging his party to becoming a political force in the legislature.

The Blue House on Thursday said it expects the new legislature to reflect the desires of the people.

“We hope the 20th National Assembly will pay attention to the livelihood of the public and serve the people,” presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk said in a briefing. “Such a demand from the public appeared to be reflected in the outcome.”

Blue House staff expressed dismay that they had not anticipated such an extreme outcome. One official confessed, “How will we manage the government for the remainder of the term?”

During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Park said, “We need to overcome various immediate difficulties, and in order not to crumble right now, we need to give birth to a new National Assembly that will strive to stabilize public sentiment and revitalize the economy.”

With its current number of seats, the Saenuri Party will have extreme difficulty running the government smoothly.

Legislation that has been strongly backed by the president and ruling party, including key economic revitalization bills, may fizzle.

Park, who was once dubbed Korea’s “queen of elections,” is expected to struggle through the remainder of her term, which ends in February 2018.

“The president will continue to push for the four major reforms [including economic revitalization and labor reforms],” a key presidential staffer said, “though in reality, in a situation with an opposition majority, dialogue and cooperation will be sought, of course.”

“President Park’s approval ratings are still strong,” a key Saenuri Party official said, “so this does not mean we have been robbed of both our majority and the Blue House leadership.”

Key presidential aides, including Park’s chief of staff, Lee Byung-kee, are considering resigning, while Hyun Ki-hwan, senior secretary for political affairs, offered to “take responsibility.”

Sources say Park has not accepted his resignation.

“In the current situation, in order to adopt measures to reflect public sentiment, those people will be needed,” a key Blue House official said. “We will not rush into things and slowly find a solution.”

Shin Dong-cheol, a presidential secretary for political affairs, tendered his resignation on Tuesday.

But spokesman Jung said Shin’s resignation, who has been part of a group of key supporters of President Park, “was unrelated to the election results.”

BY SARAH KIM, SHIN YONG-HO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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