SEOUL, South Korea — President Lee Myung-bak’s party has suffered a surprising setback in local elections that were widely seen as a referendum on his handling of North Korea’s alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship.
Results from the elections were released on Thursday, and the voter turnout of 54.5 percent was the highest for local elections in 15 years.
Candidates of Mr. Lee’s governing Grand National Party had hoped that outrage in South Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, would help them ride a conservative wave to victory. Mr. Lee’s government has formally accused North Korea of attacking the ship on March 26 with a torpedo from a submarine, a charge that the North has denied.
“The election results were far less than we had expected and hoped for,” Cho Hae-jin, a spokesman for the governing party, said. The party’s chairman, Chung Mong-joon, an important ally of Mr. Lee, said he was stepping down over the poor results. Mr. Lee’s chief of staff, Chung Chung-kil, also offered to resign. More...