South Korea's Ruling Party Chief Resigns Over Election Loss

  • Saenuri Party fails to win majority in surprise setback
  • President Park suffers blow in korean parliamentary election

Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo Sung is resigning as its chairman, following a surprise setback for President Park Geun Hye’s ruling party in Wednesday’s election.

Park’s party failed to win a majority in the legislature, undermining chances to enact her economic agenda in her final years in office. With almost all of the ballots counted, the Saenuri Party is projected to win 122 parliamentary seats, South Korean TV broadcaster KBS TV reports. The ruling party currently has 146 lawmakers in the 300-seat National Assembly, South Korea’s unicameral legislature.

Park’s hard-line stance on North Korea failed to sway voters while a slumping economy may have weighed more heavily on their minds. South Korea’s youth unemployment rate hit a record in February and exports have fallen for 15 consecutive months. Park has sought to tackle the economic doldrums by boosting entrepreneurship under her “creative economy” policy.

‘No Jobs’

“How can people be creative when they have no jobs?" said Kwon Sang Yoon, a 31-year-old who works at a telecommunications company. Kwon said he wanted “regime change” and voted for the main opposition Minjoo Party, which is likely to win about 120 seats, according to tentative results.

In an editorial Thursday analyzing the election, Korea’s major newspaper Hankook Ilbo said younger Koreans in their 20s to 40s put the Ruling Party on “judgment for failing to look after livelihood of ordinary citizens and being too focused on power struggle.”

The election fallout was immediate. “I’ll take all responsibility about the election defeat and resign from position as party chief today,” Kim Moo Sung said in a televised speech on Thursday.

The results contradict earlier predictions that Park’s party would secure more than 150 seats and even win a super-majority of 180 seats that would have allowed it to pass bills without consent from the opposition.

A landslide victory would have reinforced Park’s influence in picking a candidate to succeed her after her single term ends in early 2018.

“The result fell far short of Saenuri’s initial ambition,” Miha Hribernik, a senior analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said by e-mail. “Park will now find it almost impossible to implement major economic changes during the rest of her time in office.”

Disenchanted Voters

The Saenuri Party pledged quantitative easing steps during the campaign while Park has tried to push through bills to reform the labor market, boost service industries and enhance cyber-security.

She has blamed gridlock in the parliament for the failure to pass her bills and called on voters to elect a parliament that understands the importance of passing them amid North Korea’s nuclear threat and global economic uncertainty.

A rising jobless rate, falling exports and weak consumer sentiment have clouded the outlook for South Korea’s economy. The International Monetary Fund recently lowered its forecast for the country’s 2016 economic growth to 2.7 percent from 3.2 percent, citing sluggish Chinese demand for the nation’s exports.

Some voters disenchanted with Park may be turning to a minor party that split off from the Minjoo Party, said Robert Kelly, a political science professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University. Led by businessman-turned-politicianAhn Cheol Soo, the People’s Party has 20 lawmakers and may nearly double that number, results show.

Ahn gave up his presidential bid in 2012 despite polls suggesting he could beat Park. Shares of anti-virus software company Ahnlab Inc., which he founded, have risen 21 percent since the parliamentary campaign began on March 31.

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