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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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South Korea Votes

Kim Chan-ju

Apr. 13, 2016

South Koreans went to the polls on Wednesday to cast their ballots in a parliamentary election.

The South Korean National Assembly is a unicameral body and all of its 300 seats were up for grabs.

Before the election, Park's ruling Saenuri Party had 146 seats. The focus was on whether the ruling party could win a majority. And the outcome could determine whether President Park Geun-hye has a freer hand in her 2 remaining years in office.

Major South Korean media outlets were already reporting projected numbers of seats based on exit polls late Wednesday.

Public broadcaster KBS said its projection suggested that it will be difficult for the ruling Saenuri Party to win a majority.

It said the party was projected to take 121 to 143 seats, meaning it was not likely to hold on to its current numbers.

Meanwhile, KBS said opposition parties were gaining momentum. It said the main opposition Minjoo Party was expected to take 101 to 123 seats.

The third-largest People's Party was expected to gain seats, taking 34 to 41.

The National Election Commission put the provisional turnout at 58 percent, nearly 4 percentage points higher than the previous general election 4 years ago.

NHK World's Kim Chan-ju joined anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio from Seoul.

Shibuya: So Chan-ju, can you give us any updates?

Kim: I'm at a counting station in central Seoul's Jongno ward. Officials began counting ballots after voting ended 2 hours ago. The exit polls by other major TV stations also suggest that the ruling Saenuri Party will take fewer than 150 seats. We're waiting for the official results to come in.

Beppu: What was the big factor in voters' minds?

Kim: They were looking for candidates capable of re-energizing the flagging economy. Jongno, where I am, is the most competitive constituency. Ten candidates, including some of the country's powerful politicians, were vying for a single seat.

Closer Look at Election Campaign

Jongno is in the very center of the capital. This district has produced 2 South Korean presidents.

Oh Se-hoon is running for the ruling Saenuri Party. He started out as a lawyer and went on to become mayor of Seoul. Many people are speculating that he'll run for the presidency next year.

"The Republic of Korea will be a truly advanced nation in the international community! I promise to make that dream come true for you!" Oh told supporters.

The main opposition candidate in this district is Chung Sye-kyun of the Minjoo Party of Korea. Chung used to serve as commerce minister. He's already been elected to the assembly 5 times.

"Who do we need to change the government? We need Chung Sye-kyun! Please vote for me, Chung Sye-kyun!" he said at a campaign stop.

One of the central issues in this election is youth unemployment. The ruling party believes that big companies are responsible for creating jobs. The party's leaders say the more vibrant companies are, the more opportunities there will be for young people.

"Rather than injecting public funds to create jobs, we need to strengthen the competitive edge of our core technologies. Truly high-quality jobs will be created when big firms increase their competitiveness," Oh said.

The main opposition party is taking a different strategy. It's focusing on increasing wages for the lower-income bracket to boost domestic demand.

"Every 1 percent of corporate profit should be paid as a tax for the youth. I want to create more jobs with the revenues from that tax," Chung said.

The third party, the People's Party, has been winning support from younger voters. It was co-founded by former-doctor and information-technology tycoon Ahn Cheoul-soo.

Ahn's trying to form a solid political footing for next year’s presidential race.

"The revolution has begun. This is an election for the people. The old and worn-out 2-party system is collapsing before our eyes. Please support our revolution to break down the old system," he told a group of supporters.

It looks like the new opposition party has enough momentum to gain seats and break into the current 2-party political system.

We are also waiting to see how the ruling party and opposition candidates are doing in hotly contested constituencies like here in Jongno.

Shibuya: It's no secret that the ruling Saenuri Party was torn by internal strife. Did this cost them in the election?

Kim: The process of picking candidates generated a lot of friction. Many wanted to stand, but in the end the nod usually went to those with close ties to President Park Geun-hye. Some who got left out decided to run as independents and that split the conservative vote. Media here reported that the ruling party lowered its initial target of winning 180 seats. And projections so far suggest that as a result, the party failed to claw back voters' support to claim a majority.

Beppu: So what impact do you think the results will have on President Park's final 2 years, and the upcoming presidential election next year?

Kim: The final election results won't be in till later tonight. But losing a majority means President Park will face difficulties in concentrating power to handle her administration. And there was a lot of political upheaval in the run-up to this election. This day is sure to reverberate for months to come, as the parties prepare to battle in next year's presidential race.