North Korea's apparent torpedoing of a South Korean warship has weakened the political coattails of the South's pro-American president

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SEOUL — North Korea’s apparent torpedoing of a South Korean warship has weakened the political coattails of the South’s pro-American president, according to the results of Wednesday’s midterm elections.

Candidates supporting President Lee Myung-bak, who has worked closely with the Obama administration in responding to the ship’s sinking, won six out of 16 races for metropolitan mayor and provincial governor, according to the National Election Commission.

The main opposition Democratic Party — which accuses Lee of using the ship’s sinking for political gain, and whose leaders have stridently criticized an investigation that blames the incident on North Korea — won seven major races, returns showed.

About 48 percent of voters supported candidates from the Democratic Party and two other opposition parties, while 40 percent voted for candidates from Lee’s ruling Grand National Party (GNP), according to the election commission.

“The people handed a solemn judgment to the Lee Myung-bak administration,” Democratic Party spokesman Woo Sang-ho said, calling the results a “public verdict against the Lee government’s arrogance and self-righteousness.”

A ruling-party spokesman, Cho Hae-Jin, said the GNP “humbly accepts the voice of the public expressed in this election.” Analysts said the setback for the ruling party, which was unexpected, could lead to a leadership change.

Turnout was unusually high — nearly 55 percent — the highest for a nonpresidential election in 15 years.

Even before the ship sank two months ago, killing 46 sailors and triggering a major international security crisis, Lee and his ruling party appeared likely to lose ground in nationwide voting to fill nearly 4,000 local positions.

The sinking of the Cheonan was South Korea’s worst military disaster since the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire in 1953. No formal peace treaty was signed, and more than 28,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in the south, a critical regional ally.

An international inquiry determined two weeks ago that a North Korean mini-submarine fired a North Korean-made torpedo that ripped apart the 1,200-ton Cheonan in late March.

As part of punitive measures against the North, Lee last week announced trade and transport sanctions, as well as anti-submarine exercises to be held with U.S. Navy ships in the Yellow Sea. The United States is may dispatch the massive aircraft carrier USS George Washington, defense officials said Wednesday.