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Ex-PM Lee announces bid to head ruling party

Rep. Lee Nak-yon announces his bid for the chairmanship of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea during a press conference at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Rep. Lee Nak-yon announces his bid for the chairmanship of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea during a press conference at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Former Prime Minister Rep. Lee Nak-yon announced Tuesday his bid to become chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

With Lee in, the contest for leadership of the liberal camp is shaping up to be a two-horse race -- between him and Kim Bu-gyeom, both with ambitions of being South Korea’s president.

“I have come to the conclusion that I have to mobilize all-available capabilities to take responsibilities given to the Democratic Party and help overcome the national crisis,” Rep. Lee told reporters during a press conference at the National Assembly on Tuesday.

In the face of the multifaceted crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, voters placed responsibility on the Democratic Party by giving it a majority in the new Assembly, he said.

“There could be a thorny and bumpy road ahead while making it through the crisis. But I won’t duck the challenges. I will embrace it with my experience as the country’s longest-serving prime minister and (the party’s) chairperson of the Overcoming National Crisis Committee on COVID-19,” he said.

The Democratic Party will elect the new leader at a national convention on Aug. 29 who will spearhead campaigns for three elections set to take place in the next two years from the by-election next year to the presidential election and local elections in 2022.

Former Interior Minister Kim, who failed to win a parliamentary seat in April’s election, is expected to announce his bid Thursday.

Other candidates -- four-term lawmakers Woo Won-shik and Hong Young-pyo -- withdrew their bids on Monday. Song Young-gil, new chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, said Tuesday he would not run in order to clear the way for Lee.

During a press conference in Gwangju on Tuesday, Kim stressed that he could be a leader who can challenge the rampant regionalism like former President Roh Moo-hyun.

“I promise that I will become a leader who will help the party to score a victory and to complete my term with responsibility,” Kim said.

His remarks appear to be aimed at drawing votes from party members who worry that Lee may not be able to finish his two-year term because of his potential bid for the presidential election.

“From now on, the party chairman should manage three big elections. … If a party leader has to quit his job to run for president, it will spark confusion in many ways,” he said.

In the 2020 presidential election, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myeong were widely tipped as rivals for the ruling party nomination.

No significant potential presidential candidate has emerged from the conservative bloc since Hwang Kyo-ahn, former chief of the main opposition United Future Party, stepped down from his position following his party’s loss in the April 15 general elections.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)  
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