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Party of Embattled President Big Winner in South Korea Vote

By James Brooke

The New York Times -- SEOUL, South Korea

In a sharp political backlash against the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, South Korean voters tripled the size of his legislative delegation on Thursday, ensuring liberal control of the legislature.

In a rout of conservatives who voted for impeachment one month ago, Roh’s Uri Party won 152 seats, a slim majority of the 299-seat, one-chamber National Assembly. The conservative Grand National Party lost its majority, falling to 121 seats and the Millennium Democrats, once the second force, was reduced to a handful of seats, according to near-final results. A new left-wing party, the Democratic Labor Party, came in third, winning 10 seats.

Thursday’s pro-Roh vote sent a clear message to the nation’s Constitutional Court to rule against the legislature’s vote to impeach the president. Uri Party officials also called on the legislature to vote to undo the impeachment vote at its next session.

In addition to placing the legislature in the hands of the liberal-left, Thursday’s vote marks the first time since democracy was restored here in 1987 that the president and the legislature will come from the same party. Roh has four more years in his term, and the lawmakers elected Thursday will serve four-year terms.

“This is the first shift of power in the National Assembly in 43 years,” Chung Eui-yong, the Uri Party’s foreign relations spokesman, said Thursday evening. While party labels have changed, he said, the conservatives had dominated South Korea’s legislature since 1961. “This means a new beginning for Korean politics.”

With this new alignment, political analysts are talking here of a new Roh presidency. “This is the second round to the presidential election,” said Yoon Seung-yee, a political science professor at Kyungsan University, referring to the December 2002 presidential vote, which Roh won narrowly. “President Roh will get more power, especially in relation to the National Assembly. But there are still strong voices of the conservatives.”