The ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy fought a close race in local elections on Wednesday. Until early Thursday the race was too close to call in many constituencies, especially in the western port city of Incheon, Gyeonggi, Gangwon and Chungcheong provinces.
Saenuri won in Incheon, Gyeonggi, Jeju as well as its traditional stronghold of South Gyeongsang Province, while the NPAD won in Seoul, Gangwon and South Jeolla provinces, and also swept most constituencies in the Cheongcheong provinces.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon beat his Saenuri challenger Chung Mong-joon to head the city for a second term. As of Thursday morning, when about 96.4 percent of the votes counted, Park had about 56 percent with 2.64 million votes, while Jung took 43.2 percent with 2.03 million votes.
Voters did not rally around one particular party, sending warnings to both the ruling party, which massed behind embattled President Park Geun-hye, and the opposition camp, which sought to use the elections as judgment on what they claimed was the government's ineptitude in handling the April 16 ferry disaster.
The results offered a glimpse of who will compete in the next presidential elections.
Presidential hopefuls that have improved their chances include Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who has denied presidential aspirations, key pro-Roh Moo-hyun confidant Ahn Hee-jung, who is heading for his second term as South Chungcheong Province governor, former conservative leader Hong Joon-pyo, who was projected to take the South Gyeongsang Province governor's post in a landslide, and Jeju governor-elect Won Hee-ryong.
The two camps compete again in by-elections on July 30.