May 2, 2011 / 8:15 AM / 8 years ago

Support for S.Korea opposition surges, ruling GNP in disarray

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s main opposition party is fast closing the gap on the ruling conservatives, an opinion poll by a leading newspaper showed on Monday, as President Lee Myung-bak’s crisis-hit Grand National Party met to pick a new leadership.

South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak speaks at an international forum, "East Asia in the World", held to mark the third anniversary of his inauguration in Seoul February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Support for the left-of-centre Democratic Party lept to 32.1 from 22.2 percent a month earlier, compared to the GNP’s support level which fell to 37.5 percent from 38.4 percent, the poll conducted by the mainstream JoongAng Ilbo daily showed.

The ruling party has conceded its bad showing in last week’s by-elections was a vote against its handling of the economy and has vowed to replace its leadership, including the party chief. The GNP is meeting this week to reassess its strategy.

Young Son Kwon, a senior economist at Nomura International in Hong Kong, wrote in a report he expected the results to alter the government’s economic policy by “moving more towards favouring consumers or middle- and low-income families rather than large firms, banks or producers.”

The GNP won only one of the four major contests last week, in a vote that was being watched closely as the last major test of electoral support ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary polls.

The main opposition Democrats won two seats while another fringe liberal party won the third.

Among the winners was Democrats leader Sohn Hak-kyu, a former GNP lawmaker who is eying a run at the presidency next year. Sohn pulled off the biggest political upset in years by stealing the seat of Bandang from the GNP for the first time.

After the vote, Sohn’s popularity jumped to 11.5 percent in a survey of 800 people conducted on Saturday, up from 3.1 percent a month ago, the JoongAng Ilbo said.

But Sohn still trails Park Guen-hye, the GNP favourite to succeed Lee in the Blue House, by a big margin. Park’s support is running at 35.8 percent, down slightly from 36.9 percent.

A Realmeter poll published on Friday showed Park with 30 percent versus Sohn’s 14.3 percent.

In a virtual race between Park and Sohn, the JoongAng poll showed Park winning with 52 percent to Sohn’s 33 percent.

Park, the daughter of former military strongman who is credited with building modern day South Korea, lost out to Lee in the GNP presidential primary in 2007.

The sharp rise in the Democratic Party support is seen as the surfacing of previously hidden votes that may be called “marginal supporters” who feel upbeat about its chances to make an impact after Sohn’s win, said Sogang University professor Sohn Ho-chul.

Nomura’s Young said that before the general election next April, he expected politicians and policymakers to focus more on limiting inflation, increasing household savings/incomes, creating jobs and stabilising the housing market, rather than simply increasing aggregated domestic production.

Lee’s popularity has crashed from around 50 percent when he hosted the G20 summit last October to about 30 percent on the back of the stagnant economy and failed election pledges.

Editing by David Chance

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