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April 2016 Assembly Election

On 23 February 2016 the National Assembly reached a long-awaited compromise on the shape of the country's electoral map ahead of a general election in April. They kept the number of Assembly seats to 300, but decided to allocate 253 seats to district representatives, up from the current 246, and 47 to proportional representatives. The map, which expired at the end of last year, was redrawn to reflect changes in the population. Based on that, districts in Gangwon-do, Jeollabuk-do, Jeollanam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do provinces got smaller, while those in Gyeonggi-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces, major cities like Incheon and Daejeon and the capital of Seoul increased.

Over half of the 122 electoral districts up for grabs in the Seoul metropolitan area and other cities around the country, were too close to call. Despite this, some parties revealed how many National Assembly seats they expected to win. The ruling Saenuri Party [Red] said it expected to win around 145 seats, falling just short of a majority in the 300-seat assembly. The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea [Blue] said it might end up winning fewer than 100 seats. The minor opposition People's Party [Green] predicted it would grab 35 seats.

Following a fierce 13 days of campaigning, voting for the 300 seats in parliament ended 13 March 2016 at 6:00 PM. The ruling party had been embroiled in a wrangling between a group close to President Park Geun-hye and a group distancing themselves from her while selecting candidates who would run on the party's tickets.

In the days before the election, Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, took aim at the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, saying that it's an activist group that exists to disagree for the sake of disagreement. He also hit the party's former chairman Moon Jae-in, for the liberal party's alleged alliance four years ago with the now-dissolved pro-North Korea United Progressive Party.

Minjoo Party interim leader Kim Chong-in blamed the ruling party for the current state of the economy, and said his party offers better prospects for the country's citizens. Ahn Cheol-soo, founder and co-leader of the minor opposition People's Party, reiterated that support for his party would transform the current two-party system. "There is growing public sentiment that we can no longer sustain this two-party system and that change is needed."

Almost 24 and a half million cast their ballots out of nearly 42 million registered voters. That came out to an intial calculated closing turnout rate of 58 percent. Although that's below the 60-percent mark that many had hoped for, it was still the highest turnout in 12 years -- surpassing the last general election in 2012 by almost 4 percentage points, and the one before that in 2008 by almost 12.

Public broadcaster KBS predicted based on its exit polls that the Saenuri Party would take 121 to 143 seats, and fail to secure a majority. The biggest opposition Minjoo Party was forecast to take 101 to 123 seats, and the third-largest People's Party 34 to 41 seats. According to all three terrestrial TV broadcasters, the ruling Saenuri Party was estimated to have won up to 124 seats of 300 seats, while the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea won up to 109 seats and finally the splinter People's Party won up to 41 seats.

The Minjoo Party of Korea lost the Honam region, to splinter People's Party, where it had been the backbone for the opposition party for years. Despite losses at the party's political home turf, the Minjoo Party of Korea managed to sweep the largest contested districts of the Seoul Metropolitan area, holding a total of 122 seats in and out of the capital.

The final results gave President Park's New Frontier Party 122 seats with 7,952,270 votes, [33.50% of the total], the Minjoo Party of Korea had 123 seats with 5,894,081 vote [24.80% of the total], and the People's Party had 38 seats with 6,128,541 votes [25.80% of the total]. The Justice Party gained 6 seats with 1,946,962 votes [8.20% of the total], and independents had 11 seats with 1,036,647 votes [4.40% of the total], while the Christian Liberal Party had no seats though it received 626,854 votes [2.60% of the total]. The loss of majority by the ruling party was a blow to President Park, who had less than 2 years left in office. Observers said it could affect the government's implementation of the agreement reached with Japan in December 2015 on the issue of those referred to as comfort women, as well as its handling of North Korea.

The ruling Saenuri Party, which suffered a crushing loss at the polls, attempted to push through its four labor reform bills, a service industry promotion bill and an anti-cyberterrorism bill. However, the chance of the bills passing was pretty slim, given the longstanding objections of the newly-emboldened opposition bloc -- composed of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the minor People's Party. Instead, the Minjoo Party has proposed its own set of economic bills, while the People's Party proposed the formation of a special parliamentary committee on job creation.

The issues of corporate restructuring and labor reform was the subject of debate at a meeting of nation's major political parties on 22 April 2016. Leadership of the ruling Saenuri Party likened the issue of labor reform and corporate restructuring to threading a needle, urging for swift passage of economy related bills stalled at the National Assembly. The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea said the government should come up with a blueprint on how to set up and carry out the restructuring of the economy, which is too heavily reliant on large corporations. The splinter People's Party said it will take note of public sentiment displayed in the general election and try to communicate with the government to settle a number of matters regarding the people's livelihoods. They all voiced the need to come together to be more productive in the 19th parliament, as the session neared its end.

The 20th National Assembly began its four-year term on 30 May 2016, and parties pledged to make the 20th National Assembly a hard-working parliament. But concerns already emerged as they had differences over appointing chairmen for parliamentary committees. Vice floor leaders of the three rival parties failed to narrow differences on how to assign key parliamentary positions. The Assembly speaker position was predicted to go to the Minjoo, which holds the largest number of seats in the 300-member assembly, but the ruling party was not yielding in negotiations.

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea's Floor Leader Woo Sang-ho said 02 June 2016 his party would drop its demand that one of its members assume the inaugural head position of the judiciary committee of the 20th National Assembly. Woo criticized the ruling Saenuri Party for persistently claiming that a ruling party member should assume the position of National Assembly speaker. The floor leader, however, claimed that the opposition party should take the speakership since the Saenuri lost its parliamentary majority after the April 2016 general elections. Woo said that his party assessed that it is more important to keep the promise made to the public that it will start the 20th National Assembly without political wrangling.

The 20th National Assembly started with grand hopes for cooperation, but that spirit of togetherness soon melted away. In a meeting 03 August 2016, the leaders of the three main opposition parties -- Woo Sang-ho for the Minjoo Party, People's Party leader Park Jie-won and Justice Party leader Roh Hoe-chan -- vowed to unite and work toward a common political agenda, after voicing criticism of the current administration's unilateral governing style. They pledged to reform the prosecution and hold more parliamentary discussions on the government's proposed budget supplement and issues related to the THAAD deployment.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled 13 February 2018 that Choi Soon-sil will have to serve 20 years in prison, pay 17 million dollars' worth of fines and forfeit almost 7 million dollars more. Choi's sentence was five years shorter than what was demanded by state prosecutors, but it's the heaviest sentence among the people involved in the corruption scandal.




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Page last modified: 14-02-2018 18:16:45 ZULU