Kim to See Rewards Despite Poll Results

SEOUL -- South Korea's ruling party Friday faced a new term in the National Assembly robbed of its absolute majority and needing the support of independents to keep its grip on power.

However, Thursday's general election setback was not as damaging for President Kim Young-sam's New Korea Party as some of its leaders had feared, and political analysts said Kim had won important victories.

Notably, Kim's calls for a "generational change" in South Korean politics -- an attempt to shunt aside his arch-foe Kim Dae-jung, Kim Jong-pil and other elders -- paid off.

North Korean saber-rattling is widely thought to have saved the ruling camp from a worse result.

In the run-up to balloting Pyongyang troops made three incursions into a neutral buffer zone dividing North and South Korea, forcing voters at a time of military tension to consider the potentially destabilizing effect of an anti-government vote, analysts said.

Provisional results showed the New Korea Party with 139 seats in the 299-member parliament, down from 150.

The main opposition National Congress for New Politics took 79 seats against 55 in the outgoing chamber, and its leader Kim Dae-jung just missed a seat under a proportional representation system, although it was possible he could scrape in if a successful party member stepped aside.

"If you look at it in terms of the actual operation of the National Assembly I don't see any major changes," said Moon Chung-il, professor of politics at Yonsei University.

He said the New Korea Party would be able to pick up support from independents and the pro-reform wing of the small Democratic Party, which gathered just 15 seats, not enough to form a parliamentary caucus.

Kim Dae-jung's position in South Korean politics is now threatened, analysts said. After a worse-than-expected showing by his Congress party, which had hoped to take around 100 seats, he would face internal pressure to abandon his ambitions to run next year for president.

If Kim Dae-jung stepped out the picture, another presidential hopeful Kim Jong-pil would probably follow him into retirement, the analysts said.

"It may lead to a new political landscape," Moon said.

Analysts said Kim Young-sam's greatest fear was a hostile successor, in particular Kim Dae-jung, who might try to dig up scandal surrounding his presidency. By clearing the decks of aging opponents before leaving office, Kim may have saved his political legacy.

In all, eight senior Congress members of parliament were ousted from the National Assembly by new ruling party faces. They included three leading presidential contenders, Chung Dai-chul, Lee Chong-chan and Cho Se-hyong.