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In Wednesday's election, South Koreans seek something new

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
April 11, 2012 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
  • South Koreans hold parliamentary election on Wednesday
  • As underdogs gain in popularity, major parties are panicking
  • Candidates, policies and party names are all being changed

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- With a new corruption scandal emerging regularly, South Koreans appear to be turning away from traditional political parties and toward the unaffiliated underdog. In response, the major parties are panicking, changing their candidates, their policies and even their names in preparation for Wednesday's parliamentary election.

The mayor of the capital city of Seoul is an example. With no political ties and no political experience, Park Won-soon made an unlikely mayor.

His election last November to the second most powerful position in the country taught seasoned observers that people here were tired of traditional politics.

"I think they really want their voice be heard," he said. "The professional politicians were always saying they were hearing the voice of the people during the campaign period, but after that they are forgetting everything."

Since assuming office, Park himself has become political, joining the opposition Democratic United Party.

The stakes are high. President Lee Myung-bak stands to lose control of parliament this week if his party doesn't win.

Recently, it changed its name to Saenuri, which means New Frontier Party, in an attempt to show voters that the party, which had been stung by a string of corruption scandals, has changed.

The most recent scandal broke last week and is being dubbed by local media "Korea's Watergate." Allegations have surfaced that the government illegally tapped phones and monitored civilians and politicians between 2008 and 2010. But the government has countered that much of the spying was done by the previous administration, which was led by the opposition.

"I would say Korean democracy has not been mature, has not been fully institutionalized," said Chung-in Moon, a professor at Yonsei University and a former adviser on international security to the previous South Korean president.

In an attempt to spark voter interest, the election commission has hung posters of the candidates along a stream in central Seoul and declared Wednesday to be a public holiday, but Korean news media were still predicting a low voter turnout: in other words, a protest vote.

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