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Rep. Woo Sang-ho to lead Democratic Party emergency committee

Beleaguered party looks to retired, reputable heavyweights

Rep. Woo Sang-ho newly appointed leader of the Democratic Party of Korea`s emergency steering committee, enters a meeting of the liberal party`s legislators at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Joint Press Corps)
Rep. Woo Sang-ho newly appointed leader of the Democratic Party of Korea`s emergency steering committee, enters a meeting of the liberal party`s legislators at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party of Korea chose Rep. Woo Sang-ho to head the emergency steering committee with hopes of putting an end to the internal feud that erupted after the local elections.

The party announced following a meeting of its legislators Tuesday that the four-term lawmaker will head the committee until the party elects the new chair at the national convention scheduled in August. The meeting came six days after the liberal party suffered a crushing defeat in the local elections.

Rep. Shin Hyun-young, a spokesperson for the main opposition party, told reporters the legislators agreed to appoint Woo as the new leader, citing his political experience and ability to exert impartial leadership in times of crises.

All legislators agreed with the appointment during the meeting, Shin added. 

The unanimous decision implies members see the need for the committee to be helmed by a figure with deep understanding of internal dynamics to gather the party members under a united leadership and direction after facing three consecutive election defeats.

Although Woo was a central figure inside Lee’s election campaign committee during the latest presidential election, Shin said Woo was still appointed as he is a figure who “can be trusted to objectively assess the outcome of the presidential election and the local elections.”

The Democratic Party also announced the appointment of Reps. Lee Yong-woo, Park Jae-ho and Han Jeoung-ae as members of the new emergency steering committee. Rep. Park Hong-keun, floor leader of the liberal party, was automatically included in the committee as he already holds a leadership position within the faction.

Shin added that the party will be searching for additional committee members to represent younger generations and female supporters. Woo will head the committee to select new members to join the group, the spokesperson added.

The party reportedly aims to complete the process within this week so that the party can put an end to the ongoing blame game.

Many heavyweights within the liberal party have made suggestions as to who would be suitable to lead the new emergency steering committee, including retired party members with established reputations and solid leadership skills.

But Woo’s name was brought to the fore after the party reached a consensus that the new leader should be picked among active politicians who have been in close contact with legislators and other key party officials in recent years.

Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, former National Assembly’s chief secretary Ryu In-tae and former National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang were the few among those who had been considered as the head of the emergency steering committee.

Woo is faced with the daunting task of bridging the widening divide between supporters of Rep. Lee Jae-myung and others, which has been fierce since the Democratic Party lost big in the local elections, where it only won five out of 12 metropolitan mayoral and provincial gubernatorial elections.

Legislators with allegiance to former President Moon Jae-in have been applying pressure to the pro-Lee Jae-myung circle to have the former presidential candidate assume responsibility for the election defeat.

They argue he should not have represented the party as the presidential nominee in the first place and that his early return made the local elections more challenging than they already were. His involvement prompted many loyal supporters of the liberal bloc to shun going to the polls, they say.

On his first day at the National Assembly, Lee Jae-myung said he is attentive to opinions from party members and supporters, saying he feels “heavy responsibility” as a first-term legislator touted as a possible candidate to be the next chairman of the Democratic Party.

He has widely been expected to continue his political career by trying out for the chairman seat in August and growing his influence enough to give another go at the next presidential election in 2027. No other heavyweight has so far been touted to run against Lee for the chairman election.

“There’s still time left until the national convention, so I have not deeply thought about it (running to be the next chairman),” Lee told reporters upon entering the National Assembly.

Amid the deepening feud, former Democratic Party Chairman Lee Nak-yon left for the United States on Tuesday to step away from the main political stage for the time being. He is touted as one of the core members of the pro-Moon group who was sidelined after losing in the primaries to Lee Jae-myung ahead of this year’s presidential election.

“There are those who chastise me for leaving the country at a concerning time,” Lee Nak-yon wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday before departing. “Although I worry about the present, I believe in the future.”

But sources speculate Lee Nak-yon could make an early return depending on how the internal feud unravels. Some say he might try again for a legislative seat or make another bid for presidency.

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