In search of a new leader
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Who will be elected as the new head of the Democratic Party at the Aug. 25 convention? It is unlikely that Lee Hae-chan will run. It was good news for Lee that Minister of Interior and Safety Kim Boo-kyum declared he would stay out of the race, but Lee still has many other obstacles. Most of all, the Blue House sentiment is unfavorable. According to sources from the ruling party, the Blue House feels uncomfortable about the prospect of Lee as the new ruling party head. Lee, 66, is a legendary politician from the Democratic Party with 30 years of experience as a lawmaker. The seven-term representative is the longest-serving lawmaker of the party. It won’t be easy for President Moon Jae-in, who is younger than Lee and has only had one-term of experience as a lawmaker, to treat Lee comfortably. Lee’s hard-line image of openly promoting the “destruction of the conservative” is also a political burden.
Lee is also the one who recruited Moon, who had been hesitant to participate in the political arena, for the presidency. In 2011, Lee created a group, Reform and Unity, with other Roh Moo-hyun loyalists including Moon, and won the control of the Democratic Party chaired by Sohn Hak-kyu at the time. As a result, Moon was able to run as the party’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election. It is natural for a politician in power to form a partnership with a senior who groomed him.
If Lee does not run, the chairmanship race of the Democratic Party will be a fierce battle among Kim Jin-pyo, Song Young-gil and Choi Jae-sung, all fourth-term lawmakers. Kim was the economic deputy prime minister of the Roh government. In the June 13 Gyeonggi gubernatorial race, he supported a key Moon ally, Jeon Hae-cheol. With those backgrounds, Kim is trying to score Moon supporters’ votes. When Kim becomes the next leader, the Blue House will have a partner who will manage the ruling party smoothly. But Kim is a promoter of economic growth, and his policy will likely come against the Blue House’s pro-labor policy.
Song was not a Moon loyalist, but he ran Moon’s campaign during last year’s presidential election. Now, he is leading the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation, prompting himself as a new Moon supporter. He is a native of Goheung County, South Jeolla, and his stronghold is Honam. During the past two years, he visited 200 chapters of the party around the country to strengthen his organizational power. Moon allies say they won’t support nor oppose Song and it is up to him to win the race.
Choi publicly labeled himself as a confidant of Moon during the June 13 by-election primary to win the Songpa B ticket. Although his campaign created a stir, he was elected. He was competing against Jeon to represent the Moon loyalists in the chairmanship race. After Jeon declared that he won’t run, Choi made clear his ambition to win Moon supporters’ votes. He is particularly popular among hardcore Moon loyalists. On the other hand, Roh supporters and moderate supporters of Moon are fans of Jeon and Kim. Therefore, it is not easy to predict where their votes will go, indicating that the upcoming race will be fierce. Kim Doo-kwan is a dark horse, but at a recent book publishing event, there were more than 10,000 supporters in attendance.
No matter who wins the chairmanship, the job will be tough. The biggest problem is the economy. There is no sign of recovery, and the ruling party leader is often the scapegoat in such a situation. One lawmaker who decided to stay out of the race said, “Honestly, I gave up because the next leader is destined to resign before the two-year term ends.” He is right. When the economy gets worse, the ruling party has to demand the Blue House to change its policies. A conflict between the party and the Blue House will become routine, and approval ratings will go down. There is no guarantee that the tragedy of the Roh administration, in which the head of the ruling party changed five times in 18 months, will not repeat.
The new leader of the Democratic Party, therefore, must be someone with extraordinary strategy and determination. He should have the political capability to support the government while inducing a change in policy smoothly at the right time. It is not time for someone who is trying to win the race based on a relationship with Moon and factionalism.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 20, Page 30