Conservatives dominate in South Korea’s elections for the National Assembly. Politicians from President Lee Myung-bak’s camp and other right of centre parties picked up a clear majority of the 299 seats up for grabs. This marks an end to a decade of liberal rule that saw closer ties with North Korea.
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak
Chung Dong Young concedes defeat in one of the most high profile races of South Korea’s parliamentary elections. For the 54 year old politician of the liberal United Democratic Party it’s his second defeat in three months. Back in December, Chung had already lost the presidential polls to Lee Myung-bak of the conservative Grand National Party. Chung, a former Unification Minister, had been picked to succeed Roh Moo-hyun and carry on the North Korean engagement strategy known as the Sunshine policy.
In the working class Seoul district where Chung ran for the legislature, voters like 41 year old Kim Chun Sup say they like Chung’s domestic agenda, but differ with him on how to handle North Korea:
"I support Lee Myung-bak for that policy. North Korea needs to appreciate what South Korea has done for it and talk to us with a more open mind."
North Korea a major issue
Sixty-year old Lee Won Young also thinks that President Lee and not Chung Dong Young is right about inter Korean relations: "It's important that Seoul doesn’t give North Korea everything it wants. South Korea needs to get something in return as well."
Cheong Wook Shik of the pro-engagement advocacy group 'Civil Network For a Peaceful Korea' explains that voters were still unhappy with former president Roh’s economic policies, but the liberal candidates only had themselves to blame for their big loss: "South Korean reformative and progressive politicians failed to reshape their agenda and identity".
Cheong says that voters had financial and not idealistic issues like re-unification on their minds when they were casting their ballot.
Yearning for economic reform
By electing candidates from Lee’s party, voters may have hoped to give the president the support he needs to push through his economic reform agenda. Which includes increasing domestic growth and bringing a run-away housing market under control.
But as relations on the Korean peninsula worsen following Pyongyang’s expulsion of South Korean officials from a joint industrial complex and a missile test firing in the end of March, Cheong says President Lee cannot abandon the Sunshine policy:
"The most important thing is that the Lee Myung-bak government needs to respect the previous agreements between two Koreas. I think that should be the clear starting point to restore relations between the two Koreas."
Six-party talks will decide on future
Lee Myung-bak has linked future inter Korean cooperation to the ongoing six party de-nuclearization talks.
But those negotiations have been stalled since the beginning of the year, as the nations involved, which include the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, await Pyongyang to hand over a list of all components of its nuclear weapons program.
President Lee says that once North Korea gives up its atomic arms, then South Korea will help the isolated state get out of poverty.