South Koreans head to polls in parliamentary elections. President Park Geun-hye's conservative party is largely expected to land a decisive win.
If the ruling Saenuri Party manages to regain its majority in the election, it could clinch the presidency in 2017 when Park's single term expires. Political power in South Korea is firmly focused on the presidency, with elections to the single-chamber national assembly being traditionally dominated by local issues.
This election, however, seems to be different. National security issues are high on the agenda following North Korea's recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. Hostility between the rival Korean nations in election years has helped the conservatives in the past, highlighting their hard-line approach against the North. A Gallup survey conducted in South Korea showed that Park's supporters rated her diplomatic policies and stern measures against the North positively.
Liberal candidates have traditionally backed rapprochement policies with North Korea. Officials from the main opposition Minjoo Party said they were concerned that Park's Saenuri could achieve close to a two-thirds supermajority of the 300 seats in the new National Assembly. Since losing its second presidential election in 2012, the Minjoo Party has struggled with infighting and defections, its seats declining to 102 in the current assembly.
South Korea's economy has also featured as a main issue in the run-up to the elections. Official figures show that household debt is at new highs. The unemployment rate for people under 30 is approaching levels not seen since the country's financial crisis in the late 1990s.
Rising unemployment rates, plunging exports and worryingly high levels of domestic debt have led to some criticisms of Park's handling of the economy, but these anxieties appear to have succumbed to security concerns. The Minjoo Party opposition has sought to frame the vote as a referendum on Park's economic policies.
A strong Saenuri showing would give Park more leverage in pushing bills through the assembly. The president has so far fallen short on most of her key economic promises, a failure she puts down to legislative inaction. Critics have accused her of an authoritarian style of leadership, resulting in skewed priorities and poor decision-making.
ss/rc (AP, AFP)