- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

SEOUL President Kim Dae-jung's ruling party fell short of a plurality in parliamentary elections Thursday, despite expectations that a planned summit with rival North Korea would draw votes.

Instead, South Korea's political landscape emerged as fractured as it was before the vote. An opposition party retained the biggest bloc in parliament, forcing Mr. Kim's Millennium Democratic Party to cast about again for coalition partners.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the opposition Grand National Party had 133 seats while Mr. Kim's ruling party had 115 seats in a new, downsized 273-seat parliament. They both made gains.

The big loser was the United Liberal Democrats, a former coalition partner of the ruling party that won only 17 seats half its former total. Smaller parties and independents won eight seats.

Grand National Party Chairman Lee Hoi-chang arrived at his party headquarters, smiling broadly once the result was clear.

"This is a strong public mandate for our party to play the role of checking the abuse of power by the arrogant Kim Dae-jung government," Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee lost narrowly to Mr. Kim, 76, in the presidential election in 1997. Mr. Kim's term ends in 2003.

A campaign by civic groups to boot out corrupt politicians made a dent, with at least a dozen candidates in their 30s who are perceived as honest winning office. But the political establishment largely shook off the challenge, and many veterans kept their seats.

As in past elections, many voters chose candidates from their home regions, regardless of their resumes or policies. Politicians, including Mr. Kim, had railed against the voting pattern known as regionalism, but benefited from it at the polls.

In a statement, the Millennium Democratic Party said it had faced "a difficult challenge against an iron wall of regionalism."

The outcome was unlikely to affect Mr. Kim's plans for a historic summit with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang in June to discuss how to ease tension on the divided Korean peninsula.

Seoul publicized the summit three days before the election, prompting charges from the opposition that the ruling party was chasing votes with the announcement.

While most South Koreans support the summit, they appeared unwilling to let it affect their choices in the voting booth. Some were mindful that conservative politicians in past elections have tried to influence voters by fanning fears of the North.

The ruling camp had hoped to win votes from those with relatives in North Korea who believe the summit might bring progress on resuming official family reunions, halted since 1985.

Millions of North Koreans went to South Korea after the 1945 division of the Korean peninsula and during the 1950-53 Korean War, and most have lost touch with their families in the North.

The turnout among South Korea's 33.5 million eligible voters was a record low 57 percent, reflecting popular fatigue with government scandals as well as bickering between the ruling and opposition parties.

At stake Thursday were 273 seats in parliament, which was recently cut by 26 seats to save money.

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