Lee Nak-yon is on top in presidential poll

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Lee Nak-yon is on top in presidential poll

Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon was the most popular choice for president in an opinion poll, scoring over 40 percent support following the ruling party’s landslide victory in this month’s general elections.  

The Realmeter polling company conducted a survey from April 20 to 24 at the request of internet media outlet OhmyNews, asking voters nationwide who they favored to be the next president. According to the poll, released Wednesday, Lee of the Democratic Party (DP) scored 40.2 percent, up by 10.5 percentage points from 29.7 percent in a March survey.  
Hwang Kyo-ahn, former prime minister in the Park Geun-hye administration and ex-chairman of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), scored 6 percent, a drastic fall from last month’s 19.4 percent. After coming in second in previous polls, he dropped to fourth place following the UFP’s crushing defeat in the general elections. Lee defeated Hwang in the race to represent Seoul’s Jongno District.  
Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, a DP member, came in second with 14.4 percent, and Hong Joon-pyo, a former presidential candidate for the conservative UFP, was ranked third with 7.6 percent. Hong is currently a lawmaker-elect with no party affiliation.  
The next presidential election will take place in March 2022.
Lee’s allies were sanguine about the poll after his popularity went over the 40 percent mark for the first time. “We didn’t expect this,” said a Lee aide. “After the general elections, the demand became clear for his leadership to overcome the crisis in the country.”
Another Lee aide, however, warned against hasty optimism. “His popularity probably went up because of the ruling party’s overwhelming election victory,” he said. “We shouldn’t be too excited about this.”  
Lee on Wednesday restructured an internal committee of the DP aimed at pushing forward initiatives to overcome the coronavirus outbreak. The party’s key strategists joined Lee’s committee. Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, the DP’s chief policymaker, and Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, a former deputy prime minister, joined the committee. Kim, who won his fifth term in the latest elections, is a strong candidate for the next National Assembly speaker.  
Rep. Kim Sang-hee and Lee Kwang-jae, former Gangwon governor and a lawmaker-elect, also joined. Rep. Kim is a strong contender for deputy speaker of the Assembly.  
As the DP’s political heavyweights joined Lee’s committee, speculation grew that he is eyeing the chairmanship of the party. The ruling party is scheduled to hold a national convention in August to elect a new chairman and other members of the Supreme Council.
Other presidential hopefuls are positioning themselves within the DP. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Monday reshuffled his political aides, effectively creating a presidential primary campaign.  
Park has hired strategists and policymakers who worked in the Blue House and the DP’s think tank, the Institute for Democracy. He hired Jang Hun, who worked in the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House, as his communications strategy chief. Choi Byeong-cheon, a former researcher at the Institute for Democracy, was hired as a policy adviser.  
“In the past, Park’s political affairs aides were recruited from civic groups, and many criticized the lack of diversity,” said a Seoul Metropolitan Government official. “The new officials are free from such criticism, and they are also capable of working on a presidential primary campaign.”
Park will also replace his deputy mayor for political affairs and senior secretary for political affairs. Earlier, Park had tried to recruit Park Soo-hyun, former spokesman for the Moon Jae-in Blue House, as the deputy mayor, but the offer was rejected.  
Park’s imminent challenge is improving his ratings in polls of possible presidential candidates. In the April Realmeter poll, his rating was 2 percent, down from 3.5 percent in March.
“He needs to quickly erase the image of a bureaucrat and become a national politician,” said a DP lawmaker closed to Park.  
Meanwhile, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung emerged as a rising contender following the coronavirus outbreak, which pumped up his popularity.  
The governor aggressively investigated Shincheonji church followers in the province when infections were first reported in Daegu. He took bold measures to pay relief funds to all residents of the province.  
Lee, however, needs to solidify his support inside the party. “Although he emerged as a potential presidential contender, he only has experience in local governments as Seongnam mayor and Gyeonggi governor,” said a senior DP lawmaker. “He has no experience in the National Assembly. It won’t be easy to steadily maintain his ranking in the future.”  
BY SER MYO-JA, KIM HYONG-GU  [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]  
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