Park Geun-hye's conservative party lost its parliamentary majority in a stunning electoral rebuke. Experts had expected Park's Saenuri Party to build on its slim parliamentary majortiy but instead it lost 35 seats.
South Korea's ruling conservative party suffered a surprising election defeat as voters turned out in higher than expected numbers to voice their displeasure with the ruling Saenuri Party, led by President Park Geun-hye.
Even after recent defections the party held 157 of 300 seats heading into the vote, and were widely expected to extend their mandate. But to the surprise of just about everyone they won only 122 seats, and are no longer the largest party in parliament.
That designation now belongs to the leading opposition, Minjoo Party, which corralled 123 seats.
"Saenuri Party humbly accepts the result of the election," the party said in a statement. "We failed to read the people's mind when the people were full of disappointment and rebuke."
Experts thought discontent over a sluggish economy, and political squabbling that resulted in a four-year legislative term considered one of the least productive ever, would keep voters away.
But58 percent of the country's 42 million voters went to the polls,
an increase over four years ago, when 54 percent voted.
Voters were frustrated over parliament's failure to act on issues such as jobs and welfare in Asia's fourth largest economy, while protecting their own political interests.
"I hope that parliament will be more mature to mirror the maturity of the voters and that politics can be used for the welfare of children and young people," said Kim Jeong-yeon, 46, after casting her vote in Seoul.
Even though the economy grew at a modest 2.6 percent, youth unemployemnt reached 12.5 percent - the highest level since the government began tracking that statistic in 1999. Unemployment in other age groups remained in the single digits.
Park's government has generally gotten high marks from voters for its tough stance against North Korea, which has been increasingly bellicose in recent months.
Buteconomic uncertainty apparently weighed heavier on people's minds than the experts had anticipated.
The results also raised doubts about Park's ability to move forward with her economic agenda, which aims to increase growth, create jobs and move ahead with structural reforms ahead of next year's presidential election.
bik/ (Reuters, AP, dpa)