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Ruling bloc jump-starts ‘mammoth’ presidential campaign

Democratic Party gets head start in tight race for top post

Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, delivers a speech to party members during a kick-off ceremony of the party's largest-ever presidential election commitee held Tuesday in Songpa-gu, southern Seoul. (Joint Press Corps)
Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, delivers a speech to party members during a kick-off ceremony of the party's largest-ever presidential election commitee held Tuesday in Songpa-gu, southern Seoul. (Joint Press Corps)
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is now in full "election mode" behind presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, with his competitors from the presidential primary joining forces in hopes of maintaining power come next year.

On Tuesday, the party held a ceremony launching the largest-ever election committee headed by its chairman, Rep. Song Young-gil, with 12 other party heavyweights to rally unified support for Lee in the presidential election slated for March.

Lee Jae-myung's former competitiors, includnig Democratic Party Floor Leader Rep. Yun Ho-jung, joined Song and the primary finalists' campaign leaders in supporting the former governor of Gyeonggi Province.

Lee Nak-yon and Chung Sye-kyun -- both former prime ministers and lawmakers who competed against Lee Jae-myung in the primaries -- will work with former party leader Lee Hae-chan as top consultants to the election committee.

The ruling party announced that all 169 of its lawmakers will participate in the campaign, while it seeks to officially merge with the Open Democratic Party, a minor ruling bloc party with three lawmakers.

"As a dedicated member of the Moon Jae-in government, the light and shadow of the administration are also strictly under my responsibility," Lee Jae-myung said in a speech during the opening ceremony of the election committee on Tuesday.

"The Lee Jae-myung government, coming from the same root of the Democratic Party, will fix problems, make up for losses and make necessary additions on top of the foundation established by the Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in administrations."

Senior members of the Democratic Party have said they will work to prepare campaign promises for Lee, who has emphasized expanding state-run welfare programs with additions such as universal basic income and affordable housing.

He has also discussed introducing a four-day workweek, while vowing to launch a real estate supervisory service to root out corruption in the real estate property market.

Lee's pledges contrast with those of his primary contenders, and his election promises could change after they are vetted by other Democratic Party members with more politically centrist views.

The party said in the announcement that Lee's close aides will work with the Moon administration's close supporters, which implies the ruling party fully backs its presidential nominee despite fierce internal dissension weeks earlier.

During a speech Tuesday, Lee emphasized his presidency will be highlighted by pursuing economic recovery, uprooting corruption and promoting cooperative politics toward sustainable lives.

He said he will ensure proper compensation is paid to small-business owners hit by the pandemic while ensuring that housing prices are stabilized and real estate speculation is effectively blocked.

Lee added his government will continue supporting an eco-friendly transition with regulatory fixes.

"The root causes of our society’s extreme conflict and chasm are lack of opportunities and inequality," he said.

"We will recover fairness by dismantling cartels of those unfairly holding power found in every corner of society. A foundation for new growth will be made by fairly distributing the resources and opportunities concentrated to a few and thereby raising efficiency and inspiring motivation."

As the election is widely expected to be close due to fierce criticism of the incumbent administration and its policies, the party is using all its resources to make sure the presidential seat remains in its hands.

According to the results of a survey from the Korea Society Opinion Institute released Monday, Lee Jae-myung was neck and neck in hypothetical two-way races with both front-runners in the main opposition People Power Party’s presidential primary race.

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl was projected to beat Lee Jae-myung, while Rep. Hong Joon-pyo was slightly behind the ruling party nominee. In the hypothetical Yoon-Lee race, Yoon won 36.6 percent to 36.5 percent; in the Lee-Hong race, Lee won 34.2 percent to 35.2 percent.

The survey involved 1,016 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The main opposition party is set to announce the winner of its presidential primary at a national convention Friday, after four days of polling party members and the general public.

Yoon and Hong are competing for the party ticket with former Rep. Yoo Seong-min and former Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong. The winner will be determined after ballots from party members and those from the public are counted on a 1-1 basis.

It is expected that many new party members in their 20s to 40s will favor Hong, while mainstream members are likely to support Yoon. The number of People Power Party members with voting rights has more than doubled to 570,000 from 280,000 in June, when the party elected its new chairman.

The main conservative bloc has emphasized freshness and reform since its crushing defeat in last year’s parliamentary elections, and 36-year-old Lee Jun-seok is its youngest-ever leader.

Its primary contenders, while critical of each other, are unified in denouncing the incumbent Moon administration and holding its key figures responsible for driving up housing prices and causing an economic downturn.

The presidential race is eventually expected to become a four-way contest, though it remains possible that minor candidates might fold midway or merge campaigns with other candidates.

Lee Jae-myung and whoever wins the People Power Party presidential primary will compete against the minor opposition People's Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo and Rep. Sim Sang-jung of the minor left-wing Justice Party.

Ahn's aides dismissed speculation that he will join forces with the presidential nominee from the People Power Party, as he has been engaged in conflict with the main opposition party since an unsuccessful merger attempt in August.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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