Lee Jun-seok, a 36-year-old politician, won the leadership election for the opposition People Power Party, becoming the youngest ever leader of the nation’s main conservative party.
On Friday, Lee defeated his rival Na Kyung-won, a former floor leader of the party, to claim the chairmanship, the party said.
Earlier, the People Power Party’s election commission conducted a vote on 328,000 electors from Monday to Thursday. The final winner was determined by a combination of votes from party members (70 percent) and opinion polls conducted on the general public (30 percent). The final turnout was 45.36 percent, the highest since mobile voting was introduced in 2017, and Lee won by 43.8 percent to Na’s 37.1 percent of the vote.
Upon winning, Lee said what he wanted to emphasize the most is coexistence.
“I am confident that I can coexist with other thoughts and not be bound by the past,” he said, saying that politics that creates and propagates stereotypes must end.
“(Older people) should be tolerant of young people speaking their opinions and the barbarity of (people) blindly cursing a candidate simply because they don’t support the candidate should disappear,” he said.
Shortly after being elected leader, Lee held a press briefing and vowed to create an environment in which more presidential candidates can run.
“The presidential (primary) race within the party will be much richer,” he said, citing Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong, former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min and lawmaker Ha Tae-keong. “Task number one is to create areas for them to be confident.”
Outside the party, Lee said he would set the stage to enable former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, Ahn Cheol-soo, chairman of the People Party and Choi Jae-hyung, chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection to run for president if they wish.
Regarding the communication among the presidential candidates, he said, “We are communicating with a large number of presidential candidates,” and added, “Ahn is the person whom I will communicate with publicly as soon as possible to finish the party merger.”
Lee said he plans to ask candidates who competed for the party’s leadership, including Joo Ho-young and Na Kyung-won, to play a role in the future.
“Former floor leader Joo Ho-young played an excellent role in the process of merging the party,” he said. “I will make an official request to him so that he continues to take charge of that work.”
“Na Kyung-won is one of the most beloved and trusted leaders of the party,” he said. “Of course, I am willing to ask for a very important role suitable for her in the presidential election process.”
President Moon Jae-in congratulated the new leader on the phone, according to the Blue House.
At about 1:20 p.m., Moon called Lee and said he has done a very great job and it would go down in the history of politics.
“I think it’s a sign of change not only in politics, but also in our country,” he said. “Even if confrontation is inevitable at the party level we hope (the party) to cooperate with the government.”
The victory of Lee, who has no significant political record and has never been elected to the National Assembly, reflects the widespread antipathy among the public to established politics and a desire for more fundamental changes in both ruling and opposition parties, political experts say.
With the emergence of Lee, the support rating for the People Power Party -- which has struggled since the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye -- has risen to the highest level in six years.
According to a Realmeter survey of 2,013 adults conducted Monday and Tuesday, the approval rating for the PPP reached 40.1 percent. The rating for the ruling Democratic Party came in at 28.6 percent.
The polling agency said the survey indicated that the surge was caused by the Lee “phenomenon” and expectations of the former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who is a strong presidential contender, turning out for the opposition party.
Conversely, the Democratic Party of Korea is expected to further face a political challenge, as the party can no longer expect the comparative advantage that it has enjoyed in contrast to the old conservative party.
A recent survey on the preference of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate showed that Rep. Park Yong-jin, 50, ranked third after Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung and former party leader Lee Nak-yon.
Analysts say the Lee Jun-seok effect is also influencing things in the Democratic Party.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com