S. Korea ruling party boosts majority with key poll wins

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye delivers a speech during a ceremony marking Korean Memorial Day at the National Cemetery in Seoul on June 6, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je) (Pool/AFP/File)

Seoul (AFP) - South Korea's ruling party celebrated Thursday after sailing through a key by-election test that increased its parliamentary majority despite lingering public anger over the handling of April's Sewol ferry disaster.

President Park Geun-Hye's Saenuri Party won 11 of an unprecedented 15 by-elections contested on Wednesday, leaving it with 158 legislators in the 300-seat National Assembly.

The result will boost Park's push to restructure South Korea's export-dependent economy through economic stimulus and regulatory reform.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which had been hoping to see Saenuri lose its majority, won the remaining four contests, leaving it with 130 seats in the assembly.

The result was especially pleasing for Park after June 4 local elections had delivered a split vote between the ruling and opposition groups.

As with the local polls, the opposition had sought to make the by-elections a referendum on the Park administration's handling of the Sewol disaster that claimed around 300 lives -- most of them high school students.

Park's popularity ratings plunged in the wake of the disaster, which was largely blamed on ineffective regulation and corporate greed.

The Saenuri Party had campaigned on a message of stability needed to see through Park's pledge of greater economic prosperity.

"This is a people's message that we must stop political bickerings and focus on improving people's living standards", Saenuri Party head Kim Moo-Sung told journalists.

NPAD spokesman Yoo Ki-Hong said the opposition party accepts the results "heavily and humbly."

The polls were held on a working day, and voter turnout was low at just 32.9 percent.