South Koreans vote for local offices amid tensions

South Koreans vote for local offices amid tensions
# 02 June 2010 22:22 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea overshadowed local elections Wednesday seen as a gauge of public sentiment toward the pro-American president’s handling of the security crisis, APA reports quoting “Associated Press”.
Outrage over the sinking, which killed 46 sailors, bolstered support for President Lee Myung-bak’s ruling conservative Grand National Party ahead of the vote that will fill 3,991 positions — including key mayoral jobs that often are springboards for future national leaders, polls and analysts said.
Voter turnout was 54.5 percent of the nation’s 38.8 million eligible voters, the National Election Commission said. Results weren’t expected until Thursday.
The March 26 downing of the warship has dominated headlines for weeks and has overshadowed other hot-button issues. Security jitters deepened after a multinational investigation recently concluded a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan warship.
"The Cheonan helped the GNP. Its sinking mustered conservative votes," said Chung Jin-young, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in South Korea. "In fact, the GNP hadn’t been in good shape."
Analyst Park Kie-duk agreed. "Above all, we still have the bitter memories of the Korean War," said Park, of the private Sejong Institute near Seoul.
Voter Eom Soo-heum, 58, construction worker, said he supported the ruling party because he approved of the way the president has handled the ship crisis.
"I assumed that if these candidates shared the same political values with President Lee, they would do a good job," Eom said.
But the main opposition Democratic Party has accused the government of exploiting the sinking for the elections, arguing Lee should have announced the investigation results after the polls.
Voter Im Mi-ja, 61, supermarket owner, said her ballots went to the opposition. "I think the Lee government initiated the Cheonan incident by not being diplomatic enough with North Korea before the ship incident happened," she said.
North Korea, which has repeatedly denied attacking the ship, urged voters to oppose ruling party candidates and "deal sledgehammer blows" to the president, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.
Lee’s party was forecast to win about half of the 16 races for mayoral and gubernatorial positions, recent opinion polls have said.
Opposition parties were focusing on mayoral races for Seoul and nearby Incheon along with the governor post for Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul.
In the Seoul race, the ruling party incumbent, Oh Se-hoon, a potential presidential aspirant, was pitted against the Democratic Party’s Han Myung-sook, the nation’s first female prime minister under the government of former President Roh Moo-hyun.