South Korea President Park Geun-hye
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye suffers a major blow in parliamentary pollsKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

South Korea's ruling Saenuri party has failed to secure a parliamentary majority it has held for 16 years, dealing a major setback to President Park Geun-hye. The conservative party was expected to cement a majority in the National Assembly.

According to the poll results announced on 14 April, Park's party suffered a resounding defeat, threatening her proposals to push through vital, yet controversial, economic reforms. The National Election Commission said the party was forecast to win only 121 seats out of 300, with 99% of the votes counted. The final official results are expected to be announced soon.

The party's spokesperson Ahn Hyoung-hwan told reporters: "We humbly accept the election results. We will be reborn as the political party that will communicate with people and win their trust." The defeat also means the president is likely to face more deadlock in the assembly as the emboldened opposition will constantly challenge her economic proposals.

The main opposition — Minjoo Party — is projected to win 123 seats. Pre-poll predictions had suggested the divided opposition would be crushed by the ruling party, paving the way for a strong show by Park's party when it faces presidential election in less than two years after completing her first term.

The parliamentary polls, held on 13 April, are also key to South Korea's political landscape as it not only realigns the legislative assembly but will also recalibrate public sentiments for the next presidential polls in 2017. Public discontent over rising unemployment and failing economy are seen as the key factors for dealing the blow to Park's Saenuri.

Park's spokesperson said she did not have any immediate comment. The emergence of the newly set up People's Party, which was an underdog before the elections, that won 23 seats of the contested 28 constituencies will also determine how the South Korean politics — so far dominated by only two parties — will be shaped in the coming months.