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[Editorial] Judicial risk

Lee to run for Democratic Party leader after little self-reflection as probes draw near

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the former presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, declared his bid for the party chairmanship on Sunday.

The Democratic Party plans to hold a national convention on Aug. 28 to elect a new leader.

He said that he would change the party’s politics and that the beginning of that is to make it a winning party. Lee also said that if he fails to lead the party to victory in the next general elections, his calling of the times would end, too.

This is understood to mean that he would give up running for a president again. But he was ambiguous about the standard of a victory in the next general elections in April 2024. If he will do as he said remains to be seen.

His bid for party leadership comes just about four months after his defeat in the March 9 presidential election.

Opponents within the party called for him not to run to take responsibility for the defeat not only in the presidential election but also June’s nationwide local elections. Lee chaired the party’s overall campaign committee for local polls.

His run for party leader was viewed as a done deal when he ran in parliamentary by-elections held together with the June 1 local elections.

He joined the race for a vacated Assembly seat in Gyeyang-gu, Incheon, a district where the party has a strong support base, despite having no connections at all there.

A by-election was held in a district in Bundang-gu, Seongnam, as well. Naturally, he was expected to run here, because he did not only live in Bundang but also had a career as Seongnam mayor and Gyeonggi provincial governor. But he bore shame to move to a district without connections, only for the nearly certain chance of being elected.

His political steps are not likely to stop at his challenge for party leadership. He seems to be targeting the next presidential election after taking the helm of the party.

Opinion polls show Lee leading other potential candidates by a wide margin. And yet he faces rough sailing on his political path. The party is concerned about his “judicial risk” of being indicted. After all, his risk will become the party’s risk if he takes its leadership.

He has been dogged by allegations that broke out ahead of the presidential election. Seongnam Football Club is suspected of receiving dubious sponsorship when he was Seongnam mayor. His wife allegedly used government payment cards privately when he was Gyeonggi Province governor.

Investigations by prosecutors and police are said to be moving closer to Lee. They are expected to summon him for questioning sooner or later, possibly before the party’s convention.

The nation was jolted last year by allegations that Seongman gave huge favors to several small investors in the city’s Daejang-dong land development project when he was its mayor. Investigations and a trial concerning this case are underway.

Lee argues the probe of allegations involving him is “political retaliation” by the current administration, but the truth must be found, regardless of political gains or losses from investigations. Investigations to find out whether he is implicated in crimes look inevitable.

It is reasonable to get to the bottom of allegations through investigations and trials. His political status -- as a member of the National Assembly or the party leader in case he is elected at its convention -- must not be considered.

In declaring his bid for party leadership, he admitted that he is the most responsible for the party’s defeats in the latest presidential and local elections.

Generally, a loser moves off to the rear and has a considerable time for self-reflection. But just about four months after being defeated in the presidential election, he came forward vowing to lead the party to victory. It is senseless and unconvincing. Furthermore, he carries judicial risks.

People have already rendered their judgment on Lee and the Democratic Party. It is questionable if the party read public sentiment properly, far from reflecting on themselves.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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