April 10, 2008 3:00 am

S Korea poll win aids Lee reforms

Lee Myung-bak, the president of South Korea, yesterday strengthened his prospects for pushing through business-friendly economic measures when his conservative party won a majority of seats in a parliamentary election.

Mr Lee, who took office in February, secured a sweeping victory after vowing to boost economic growth to 7 per cent from 5 per cent last year and double per capita income to $4,000 (€2,542, £2,021) by 2017. He has already outlined plans for large-scale transport and other infrastructure projects, state asset sales and tax cuts to strengthen the Korean -economy.

His Grand National party yesterday won 155-178 seats of the 299 seats in parliament, according to preliminary results.

However, the GNP's win was damped by a record low turnout of 46 per cent, suggesting that Mr Lee will still struggle to gain public support for some of his more disputed economic plans, including the construction of a cross-country canal.

It was also short of the two-thirds victory that some analysts forecast after Mr Lee's election, confirming that his popularity has declined amid concerns that a global economic downturn would derail his growth forecast, and after some of his cabinet members were forced to resign for alleged improprieties.

Yoon Sung-ie, professor at Kyung Hee University, said last night: "This election -victory will help the new government go ahead with economic reforms but it will still find it difficult to push aggressively for some controversial projects such as the canal and education reform."

Korea's election commission took an unprecedented step to encourage people to cast their vote, offering discount coupons to museums and parks.

Still, most voters stayed away from the polling stations, pushing the turnout well below the previous low of 57 per cent in 2000. Analysts also blamed the GNP and other candidates for avoiding some policy debates and instead focusing on intra-party personal feuds in the run-up to the vote.

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