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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Mass defection decimates South Korea's ruling party.

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- A group of lawmakers deserted South Korea's ruling Uri Party on Tuesday, dumping the liberal group into the second-ranked slot in parliament and leaving it in disarray ahead of this year's presidential election.

The defection is likely to scupper attempts at economic and constitutional reform by the country's deeply unpopular president Roh Moo-hyun, and will strengthen the hand of the Grand National Party, which backs a tougher line with North Korea.

Roh wants to change the constitution so that his successors can serve two terms instead of one, which would give the president more sway in forming long-term policies.

The group of 23 defecting lawmakers said Uri -- which has a popular support rate of about 10 percent -- had failed.

"We are giving up on the Uri Party," lawmaker Lee Jong-kul told reporters, saying the party had let voters down.

Roh, increasingly labeled a lame duck in his final year in office by the local media, had appealed for unity. But some Uri members said they had to distance themselves from him to have a chance in December's presidential vote.

With the defection, the conservative Grand National Party has now surpassed Uri to become the largest group in parliament.

The Grand National Party has 127 members in the 299-seat unicameral parliament. Prior to the defection, Uri had 133.

Surveys have indicated some of the biggest concerns of South Korean voters are runaway real estate prices and uncertainty about the job market.

Uri will likely split into two groups, political analysts said.

One group would follow Roh, whose support rate is only slightly higher than Uri's, and his calls for economic reform aimed at narrowing income disparity.

The other group would try to distance itself from Roh's policies and advocate market-based economic reforms, they said.

A trickle of lawmakers had already left Uri -- whose name means "our" in Korean -- in the past few weeks.

Opinion polls show the Grand National Party as the clear frontrunner to provide South Korea's next president.

Previous South Korean presidents, facing falling support rates, have also seen their parties crumble into disarray ahead of a presidential vote.

Source: CNN.

Cross-posted at: Causes of Interest.

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