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[Newsmaker] Underdog challenges bigwigs in NPAD race

An underdog politician running in the main opposition’s chairmanship election next month could be the long-term solution for the party’s persistent factionalist problems even if he loses, analysts and party insiders said Thursday.

Rep. Lee In-young of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy will challenge the favorites Reps. Moon Jae-in and Park Jie-won in the in-house chair election on Feb. 8.

But Lee may play the role of spoiler as votes from the two-term lawmaker’s main political support base could be split between himself and Moon, leading to a win by Park. Lee could also be the answer to the party’s infighting problems, analysts and Lee supporters said.

NPAD in crisis

The main opposition party has been on the decline over the past two years amid continuous feuding among its main factions.

Three leaders were pressured to resign during this period. The party’s public ratings have nosedived. The party also lost the July by-elections to the governing Saenuri Party, even losing a seat in the Jeolla region, an electoral stronghold that the left has rarely lost in major elections.

Those vying to become the party’s new leader in the coming convention have vowed to end the intraparty fighting and turn the party around before the 2016 parliamentary elections and 2017 presidential election.

But critics have charged that the Moon-versus-Park paradigm in the coming party convention will exacerbate friction within the NPAD, as the two figures are considered the senior leaders of the party’s two main factions.

Moon leads the so-called pro-Roh Moo-hyun group, which is named after the late former president and consists of a relatively younger group of Roh-admiring lawmakers. Park leads the old-school faction that traces its roots to one of modern Korea’s liberal founding fathers, Kim Dae-jung.

“Is the NPAD convention going to repeat the usual pro-Roh vs. non-Roh fight?” read a satirical editorial in the right-leaning Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Seoul on Thursday, in reference to Moon and Park.

The answer?

Lee won the third and last spot in the NPAD’s party chair elections in a primary held Wednesday.

In his speeches, Lee underlined his determination to break from the NPAD’s traditional factionalism.

“Reps. Moon and Park cannot unite our party. They are the representatives of the pro-Rohs and the non-Rohs,” Lee said during a campaign rally in Gwangju on Thursday. “I intend to make a stand and rally our party at this convention.”

Lee argues he is best fit for the party’s chair as the NPAD is in need of a “generational change.”

“If Lee runs, he’s likely to offer party voters a third option and break the Moon-versus-Park paradigm, even if he loses,” local daily Hankook Ilbo cited an unnamed “moderate NPAD lawmaker” as saying.
Rep. Lee In-young. (Yonhap)
Rep. Lee In-young. (Yonhap)

But Lee’s candidacy poses challenges to Moon. Lee’s political support base comes mostly from the “86ers,” an NPAD group of former student activists born in the 1960s who spent their college days protesting against the military governments of the 1980s.

If Lee choses to give up his candidacy before Feb. 8, the “86ers” are likely to offer their votes to Moon, a former student activist whom the 86ers can empathize with better than Park.

As long as Lee runs, though, this support base is expected to be split between Lee and Moon, giving the upper hand to Park, the leader of the old-school liberal camp.

“Moon and Lee could also split the votes from Seoul,” Hanshin University professor Yoon Pyung-joong said. Moon earned more votes than President Park Geun-hye in Seoul in the 2012 presidential elections. Lee represents an electorate in southwestern Seoul.

By Jeong Hunny (