South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s ruling party faces losing control of parliament next week to an opposition that vows to increase welfare spending, revisit a U.S. trade deal and improve ties with North Korea. The New Frontier Party is struggling to overcome bribery and illegal surveillance scandals ahead of April 11’s National Assembly elections that may forecast the December presidential race. The opposition Democratic United Party has pledged to create 3.3 million jobs and may get a boost from younger voters who face an unemployment rate almost twice the national average. Asia’s fourth-largest economy has had slower growth and higher inflation under Lee than his predecessor, contributing to a 50 percent drop in his popularity. Relations have also worsened with North Korea, who plans to fire a long-range rocket between April 12 and 16 would scuttle a food aid agreement with the Obama administration. “An opposition victory will hasten Lee’s position as a lame duck,” said Lee Nae Young, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul. “Regardless of who wins, we could see many welfare policies enacted before Lee’s term ends, as parties try to improve the odds for December.”
The national prosecutors office on April 1 said it was looking into accusations the government illegally tapped phones and watched civilians and politicians between 2008 and 2010. Lee spokesman Choe Geum Nak the same day said the government would wait for the results of the investigation. The scandal follows the resignation of the National Assembly’s speaker over allegations of vote-buying in February, and Lee’s party chairman quitting in December after an aide was named by police in a cyber attack on the election commission.