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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
S Korean president comes out on top
By Charles Scanlon
BBC correspondent in Seoul

President Roh Moo-hyun's supporters stage a candlelit protest against his impeachment
South Koreans were largely opposed to the president's impeachment
After months of political feuding that culminated in the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, the South Korean people have given their verdict.

They have handed a clear victory to the president's loyalists in the liberal Uri party.

The ruling camp looks set to win a majority in the National Assembly - more than tripling its seats.

"The people have protected democracy, the people have protected the president," said the chairman of the Uri party Chung Dong-young.

"This election means that the old political forces that have dominated South Korean politics for 44 years are forced to leave the stage."

Mood swing

Analysts see the result as a vote for stability.

President Roh's approval rating had slumped to 30% last year after a halting and inconsistent start to his five year term.

But the mood changed last month when the head of state was impeached by his conservative opponents on seemingly trivial charges.

He was accused of corruption and illegal campaigning for speaking out in favour of the Uri party.

"The impeachment was against the will of the majority and wasn't just. I used to support the opposition but no more," said young mother Suh Jin-hee.

Young vote

The Uri party counted on the support of young voters in their twenties and thirties who are overwhelmingly hostile to the conservative establishment.

The conservative Grand National Party has been damaged by a massive political funding scandal in recent months.

It was found to have taken tens of millions of dollars in black money from big business.

"The majority think if you stay in politics for a long time, if you're old you're corrupt," says Professor Hahm Seung-deuk of Korea University.

"President Roh presents himself as an outsider who can clean up politics, that's why he's very attractive to voters."

Disillusioned

Already in a weak position the GNP shot itself in the foot by forcing through the impeachment of the president.

South Korean MPs
MPs tried to physically prevent the impeachment vote being called
There were scuffles and brawls in the National Assembly - scenes that appalled a public already disillusioned with politicians.

This election has seen the emergence of many fresh faces. More women and younger candidates have come forward - people untainted by the discredited money politics of the past.

The conservative opposition, however, did stave off disaster at the polls.

It managed to shore up support in its south-eastern stronghold - an indication that long established regional divisions are still strong.

Waiting game

President Roh must now wait for the final verdict on his impeachment from the constitutional court. If he is cleared of the charges against him he will be returned to office in a much stronger position.

The Constitutional Court is supposed to make a legal ruling. But analysts speculate it could be influenced by the public mood.

The victory of the centre-left has consolidated a pronounced left-ward drift in South Korean politics.

Many of the president's supporters are sceptical of the alliance with the United States and are sympathetic to the plight of North Korea.

President Roh adopted pragmatic middle of the road policies during his first year in office.

He says he is committed to the free market and the alliance with Washington.

But if he is returned to office with a parliamentary majority - conservatives fear he will be less constrained in his policies.


SEE ALSO:
S Korea's Uri Party heads for win
15 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea's class conflict sparks fury
13 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea party chief quits post
12 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea election campaign begins
02 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Court reviews S Korea impeachment
18 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Roh Moo-hyun
24 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: South Korea
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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