South Korea elections: ruling conservative party loses majority

President Parks Saenuri party had expected to regain majority it has held for 16 years, but formal announcement likely to confirm surprise defeat

South Koreas ruling conservative party suffered an upset defeat in a parliamentary election on Wednesday, local media said early on Thursday based on election commission data, in a stinging blow to president Park Geun-hye.

The loss by Parks Saenuri party, which had been expected to regain a majority, will mean her government will face more deadlock in the national assembly as she tries to push through her legislative agenda to boost a sluggish economy.

The defeat is also likely to dent prospects for the party to field a winning candidate in the presidential vote scheduled late next year to succeed Park for a single five-year term.

Saenuri took 122 of the 300 seats in the single-chamber national assembly, while the main opposition Minjoo Party won 123 seats and the Peoples Party grabbed 38, KBS television and Yonhap news said.

The National Election Commission had not formally announced the final result as of 5.30am local time (2130 GMT) with 99.9% of the votes counted.

Saenuri Party humbly accepts the result of the election, the party said in a statement. We failed to read the peoples mind when the people were full of disappointment and rebuke.

The country has a strong presidential system with a national leader who is constitutionally limited to a single term but has control over domestic and foreign policy.

Turnout was higher than in two previous elections, defying expectations of analysts and politicians who thought discontent over a sluggish economy, and political squabbling that resulted in a four-year legislative term considered one of the least productive ever, would keep voters away.

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Saenuri held half of the 292 seats in the outgoing assembly. Before recent defections, it held a majority with 157 of the 300 seats.

Voters expressed frustration that parliament had neglected issues such as jobs and national security in Asias fourth largest economy and focused more on protecting political interests.

I hope that parliament will be more mature to mirror the maturity of the voters and that politics can be used for the welfare of children and young people, said Kim Jeong-yeon, 46, after casting her vote in Seoul.

Parks legislative agenda had been bogged down in a parliament deadlocked by feuding and she had blamed both sides for hamstringing her push to boost growth, create jobs and get on with structural reforms.

South Koreas economy grew 2.6% last year and youth unemployment reached 12.5% in February, the highest since the government started keeping records in 1999, compared with single-digit joblessness in other age groups.

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