Lee Jung-hyun declares Jongno bid

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Lee Jung-hyun declares Jongno bid

Lee Jung-hyun, a three-term independent lawmaker who once headed the main opposition party, declared Tuesday his bid to run in Jongno District of central Seoul in the April general elections.

Lee, currently representing Suncheon of South Jeolla, held a press conference in front of the Blue House to announce his decision to run in Jongno. He will face a formidable rival from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) - former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon.

The district, located in central Seoul, is known as the heart of Korea’s politics, as it produced three presidents. Presidents Yun Posun, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak all represented Jongno District during their lawmaker careers. As of now, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun is representing the constituency.

“The time has come to end the Moon Jae-in administration,” Lee said during the press conference. “I am not an antagonist [of conservative unity]. When everyone is hesitant out of fear, someone has to stand up. With my bid in Jongno, all political parties and factions who want to end the Moon administration must unite.”

Lee said the only way to end the life of the leftist administration and ruling party is election. “Politicians speak with elections,” he said. “The only thing I can do is be a frontier to run in Jongno to fight against the long-term strategy of the leftist, extreme ruling party.”

Lee is a native of South Jeolla, who started his career in the New Korea Party, an ancestor of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP). He has been making tireless attempts since 1995 to win a seat in the Jeolla region, where the conservatives have never won a victory.

After entering the National Assembly as a proportional lawmaker of the Grand National Party in 2008, Lee became a symbol of ending Korea’s perennial regionalism in politics by winning a legislative by-election in 2014 to represent his hometown of Suncheon. In 2016, he was re-elected to become a three-term lawmaker.

Lee is also known for his close relationship with former President Park Geun-hye. From March till June 2013, he served as the senior secretary for political affairs at the Park Blue House and as the senior presidential secretary for political affairs from June 2013 till June 2014.

From August till December 2016, Lee served as the chairman of the Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the LKP. He abandoned his party affiliation in January 2017 to become an independent lawmaker in the aftermath of Park’s impeachment.

While Lee declared his bid in Jongno, the LKP has not announced its candidate. One month ago, LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn made a public promise to run in a “difficult district in the capital region,” fueling speculation that he will face former Prime Minister Lee in Jongno. Hwang, however, has yet to choose his district.

Party officials said Hwang must run in a tough, but safe enough race to win. “Yangcheon A, Yongsan, Yeongdeungpo B, Dongjak A and Gangbuk B [districts] were among our choices,” a key LKP official told the JoongAng Ilbo last week. “We ran simulations for all 49 districts in Seoul, and constituencies other than Jongno were more appropriate for him.”

While Hwang delayed the decision, the DP said he was a coward to avoid the Jongno race. “We didn’t completely shelve the possibility of running in Jongno,” said a Hwang aide. “But we don’t want to be tricked by the DP.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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