Bloomberg News

South Korea Opposition Parties Form Coalition to Improve Election Outlook

March 09, 2012

South Korea’s two main opposition parties formed a coalition against President Lee Myung Bak’s ruling party in an effort to win next month’s parliamentary elections.

Han Myung Sook, leader of the Democratic United Party and Lee Jung Hee, co-head of the United Progressive Party, signed an agreement today to form a “comprehensive national opposition coalition” after four days of talks.

“We entered negotiations with the determination to create a society where 99 percent of the people win against a government that works solely for the top 1 percent,” Han said. “This is the road to hope, the road for victory.”

The alliance seeks to regain control of the legislature from Lee’s recently renamed New Frontier Party in Apr. 11 elections, as well as win the December presidential race. While the NFP is struggling to overcome a series of scandals and public discontent over widening income gaps and rising inflation, the opposition hasn’t offered a unified alternative.

“The best thing about this coalition is that it unifies all anti-Lee and anti-NFP sentiments into one,” said Kang Won Taek, professor of political science at Seoul National University. “It will also help the opposition save votes from being split by silencing much criticism against individual opposition parties.”

Election Barometer

The approval ratings for both the NFP and the DUP stood at 36.3 percent, according to a weekly poll conducted by Seoul- based Realmeter between Feb. 27 and Mar. 2. The survey of 3,000 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. The UPP’s support rose 1.4 percentage points to 6.1 percent, the poll said.

Lee’s approval rating was at 28.8 percent, down from 76 percent when his term began in February 2008.

In a barometer of national elections, independent Park Won Soon in October won the Seoul mayoral election, beating the ruling party candidate. Park joined the DUP last month and his backer Ahn Cheol Soo, a software entrepreneur, is considered a possible presidential candidate.

Party Platforms

The opposition coalition released its policy platform today pledging inter-Korean parliamentary talks, welfare reforms and revision of labor and prosecution laws. It also expressed dissent to South Korea’s free-trade agreement with the U.S., which takes effect on Mar. 15.

The NFP unveiled a new platform in January to attract more voters unhappy with Lee. Interim leader Park Geun Hye, a probable presidential candidate, softened the party’s stance on North Korea after Lee was blamed for raising inter-Korean tensions.

Fifty South Koreans died in attacks in 2010 after Lee reversed his predecessor’s “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with the Pyongyang government. The totalitarian North rejected Lee’s offer for dialogue following the Dec. 17 death of dictator Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son, Kim Jong Un.

Park also changed the party’s 15-year-old name from the Grand National Party and announced a campaign for “fresh, young and new blood” to rejuvenate the party. At least four party leaders quit their leadership posts in December and others have chosen not to run for re-election.

The opposition is consolidating while the NFP is disintegrating, said Lee Nae Young, professor of political science and director of the Asiatic Research Center at Korea University in Seoul.

“The NFP is trying to reverse the hostility in public opinion by revamping its image while internally party members are unable to agree on a course of action,” Lee said. “The NFP doesn’t have enough time to do both and that’s why it’s in a dilemma.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at syoon32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net; John Brinsley at jbrinsley@bloomberg.net


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