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Democratic Party starts process for electing new chair

Race highlighted by rivalry between ‘97 Generation’ and Lee Jae-myung

Rep. Lee Jae-myung of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea enters his office inside the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sunday after answering questions from reporters. (Joint Press Corps)
Rep. Lee Jae-myung of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea enters his office inside the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sunday after answering questions from reporters. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party of Korea on Sunday started receiving applications for the party chairmanship post, ahead of next month’s national convention, in a bid to elect a new leader that can put an end to the party’s continuing election defeats.

The party on Sunday opened a two-day registration period for the national convention to be held in Seoul on Aug. 28 in Seoul. The official campaign period for preliminary rounds will start on Aug. 6 where candidates will hold rallies in designated major cities and provinces.

Each candidate is required to pay 80 million won ($60,700) to officially register.

The chair election is mainly highlighted by a rivalry between young rising stars in the so-called “97 Generation” and Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the former flagbearer for the liberal party in the latest presidential election who also previously served as the governor of Gyeonggi Province.

The 97 Generation refers to a younger group of politicians who were born in the 1970s and attended college in the 1990s. The group has garnered attention in recent months as potential leaders as their older counterparts have failed to yield success.

After the party lost three key elections in a row, calls have grown within the main opposition party for members of the “586 Generation” -- those born in the 1960s -- to step down and let younger politicians take the lead. The term also came to place as a means to represent calls for a generational shift in overall politics.

Reps. Kang Byung-won, Park Yong-jin, Park Ju-min and Kang Hoon-sik are classified as members of the 97 Generation stepping up to the challenge, arguing the party needs fresh faces to drive reform and successfully serve as checks against the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.

Many have speculated they will later unite candidacies to stand a chance against Lee, who has been widely favored to win since early on. Even though Lee faces investigations over allegations of wrongdoing that were raised during the presidential election, he is still regarded as one of the most influential figures in South Korean politics today.

Some opinion surveys have picked Lee as one of the most likely candidates for the next presidency. Some see the new rules established for the chair election, brought forth by the party’s national convention preparations committee earlier this month, could work in Lee’s favor.

Lee officially announced his bid to join the chair election Sunday through a press conference held at the National Assembly, emphasizing he will work to transform the party into a group that focuses on protecting South Koreans’ lives in the face of growing socioeconomic troubles.

Should he get the chair seat, pundits say he would likely seek to grow his influence within the liberal bloc so it can set the foundation for him to try again for presidency in 2027 to succeed Yoon, whom Lee lost against in March by 0.73 percentage point in votes.

Rep. Sul Hoon also announced he was joining the competition an hour after Lee announced his bid in Seoul. He and Rep. Kim Min-seok, candidates not at the center of the spotlight of the chairman race, are traditional heavyweights who may merge candidacies with other contenders later on.

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