“The person who is as anxious about this by-election result as the candidates would be Rep. Lee Nak-yon,” said a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea on Monday. This is because Lee’s chance of winning the next presidential election depends on the result of the upcoming elections.
Lee has spearheaded the party’s by-election campaign as the election committee chief after resigning from the party leader early last month. However, support ratings for the ruling party have been plummeting due to an unexpected land speculation scandal involving employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corp (LH), which prompted Lee’s ratings drop to a single digit in an opinion poll on potential presidential candidates.
If the ruling party wins either in Seoul or Busan in the by-elections, Lee is likely to be praised for leading a tough election to a victory and get a chance to raise his support rating. However, if the party loses both in Seoul and Busan, it will deal a blow not only to the party but also to Lee. “With Lee’s approval rating already down to a single digit, it will not be easy for him to gain momentum to compete in the presidential race if the party suffers a crushing defeat in the by-elections,” said an official from the ruling party.
Some within the ruling party say Lee cannot be blamed if the party loses in the by-elections. “Even Adm. Yi Sun-sin would not be able to win in the by-elections due to unexpected events, such as the land speculation scandal involving LH employees,” said a prominent figure in the party. “Starting with the by-elections, the hot topic in politics is likely to be changed from party identity to social integration,” said a lawmaker from the ruling party. “Lee will have a stronger presence once embracing the center’s ideals becomes the party’s task once again.”
Ji-Hyun Kim firstname.lastname@example.org