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Ex-PM Lee to bid for party chairmanship next week

Rep. Lee Nak-yeon of the Democratic Party of Korea attends a general meeting at the National Assembly, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Rep. Lee Nak-yeon of the Democratic Party of Korea attends a general meeting at the National Assembly, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday he would announce his bid for the chairmanship of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea next week, which could help the key potential presidential candidate consolidate his position and stamp his authority on the liberal faction.

Lee said he would make an announcement on his future course of action on Tuesday, about eight weeks before the Democratic Party’s Aug. 29 convention where a new chairman and other leaders will be elected.

“I’ve been thinking that I should take a responsible role in the response to the national crisis. And should not ignore the responsibility of running the unprecedented huge ruling party,” he told reporters.

Lee’s bid has been widely expected with polls on potential presidential candidates showing solid support for him after returning to the ruling block in January with a record as the country’s longest-serving prime minister under the Moon Jae-in government.

He appears to have been delaying making his candidacy official for about a month as the coronavirus crisis persists and South Korea’s relations with North Korea have become increasingly strained.

Along with Lee, other candidates including four-term lawmakers Woo Won-shik and Hong Young-pyo may join the race.

Later in the day, former Interior Minister Kim Bu-gyeom, who lost in this year’s general election for a constituency, said he would declare his bid for the leadership of the party sometime next week.

Lee reportedly set up a campaign office to prepare for the party convention in a building in Yeouido, Seoul, where President Moon Jae-in’s presidential campaign office was located in 2017.

Overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak, the ruling party plans to move its convention online. Given that candidates will have to refrain from holding mass gatherings while campaigning, Lee could have an upper hand in the election on the back of his popularity that has helped him maintain the top spot for 13 consecutive months as the favored presidential candidate, further widening the gap with the runner-up, Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung.

The party has also entered into the preparatory phase for the convention, such as changing rules related to the event. On Tuesday, it revised the rule that enables the party’s supreme council members to complete their two-year term even if a chairman steps down. Analysts said that the new rule will facilitate Lee’s potential bid for the presidential election by separating the term of the chief and supreme council members.

By Park Han-na (