Lawmaker Lee Jae-myung declared on Sunday that he will run for the party’s leadership in the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea’s national convention scheduled on Aug. 28. His joining of the party’s chairman election race was announced around four months after his loss in the presidential election on March 9 as well as one and a half months after he was elected a lawmaker in the Gyeyang B district of Incheon in the June 1 by-elections. Lee said in a press conference, “I will help bring victory to the party,” promising that he will make an all-out change across everything other than the party until South Korean citizens say, “That’s enough.” The forthcoming national convention will see competition for party chairmanship among Rep. Lee, candidates who, born in the 1970s, attended college in the 1990s, and those who are not part of the pro-Lee group.
The pro-Lee circle’s requests were reflected in discussions about the rules that will apply to the national convention. As per their claims, the ratio of public opinion polls being reflected on a cutoff in the primary will be 30 percent whereas the range of the party chairman’s authority will not be reduced as requested by those at the opposite end of Lee in the decision-making process. In response, this is seen by those inside and outside the party as a de facto confirmation that Rep. Lee, the former presidential candidate who gained a high popularity among the public, seemingly has a major influence on the party.
The DP’s national convention is supposed to provide an opportunity for the party to reinvent itself following the recent losing streak from the presidential election to the local elections. However, if the focal point of the event only stays on Lee’s influence across the party, the question as to whether Lee is qualified for leadership will leave all other significant issues unnoticed. This will make it hard for the party to work hard to overcome the traps of fandom-based politics and propaganda campaigns. As Lee also proposed to leave behind political strife and ideologies, he should lead discussions to get this process started.
Some party members are concerned that Rep. Lee should have had more time to reflect on his responsibility for a series of losses in the presidential election before running for party chairmanship. That is, some assume that Lee rushes to take the helm of the party to protect himself from any legal risk. If party-wide power is exerted to remove any legal risk for the sake of its chairman, he will inevitably end up in a bulletproof vest. This scenario will never give the DP any chance to benefit the general public and upgrade itself to an acceptable level.
Lee’s running for party chairmanship has sparked a furious debate between pro-Lee members and a bloc against him. A heated debate is unfolding online and offline day after day, which is even considered a psychological dismantling of the party. The bone of contention is the party chairman’s right to nomination for the next general elections. If such a high level of discord lasts longer, politics of integration will never be achieved no matter who will become the leader of in the party. It may sound absurd to promise to achieve nationwide integration and governance between the ruling and the opposition parties at a time when failed attempts are being made to resolve conflict between factions within the party. Thus, Rep. Lee should come up with a fair nomination system even to calm down concerned voices.