Park Avoids Fallout From Ferry Wreck to Increase Korean Majority

South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s ruling party extended its parliamentary majority in special elections yesterday, evading public discontent over the Sewol ferry sinking that sent her support to a record low.

Park’s Saenuri Party captured 11 of the 15 seats at stake in the vote, increasing its representation in the 300-seat National Assembly to 158 lawmakers. Saenuri’s advantage over the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy increased to 28 seats from 21, after NPAD won only four seats.

The results will boost Park’s confidence as her government pushes for an expansionary budget next year to shore up Asia’s fourth-largest economy. She also last week announced 11.7 trillion won ($11.4 billion) in economic measures, parts of which require parliamentary approval.

“The main targets she’s aiming for will remain unaffected,” Rhee Jong Hoon, an analyst who heads the iGM political consulting firm in Seoul, said by phone. “The Sewol factor had already played out before the by-elections.”

After Saenuri and NPAD split local elections in early June, Park’s first electoral test since taking office in February last year, the president vowed to bolster efforts to accelerate growth, carrying out a cabinet shakeup that she said would boost the effectiveness of her three-year economic plan.

Opinion Polls

NPAD tried to portray the vote as a referendum on Park, whose popularity has plummeted amid public outrage over the April 16 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, most of them school children. Support for Park slipped to 40 percent last week, the lowest since she took office 17 months ago, according to a Gallup Korea poll released on July 25.

Heading into the vote, Saenuri had a national approval rating of 41 percent while the three opposition parties together had 33 percent support. NPAD had the most support among the opposition with 26 percent, while 25 percent said they had no specific party they support, according to the poll.

Yesterday’s ballots were held to replace 10 lawmakers who ran for municipal elections on June 4 and five more who were disqualified from parliament for breaking the law, according to the National Election Commission.

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