Lee Nak-yon resigns as DP chair to run for president
Lee Nak-yon stepped down as head of the ruling party Tuesday to run in next year’s presidential election.
After serving as the prime minister of the Moon Jae-in administration until January 2020, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Party (DP) in last August. Lee served in that post for 192 days.
The chairman of the DP normally serves two years, but Lee is stepping down for his presidential ambition. According to the constitution of the DP, the party chairman or a member of the Supreme Council intending to run in a presidential primary must step down one year before the presidential election. The presidential election is scheduled for March 9, 2022.
“Although I worked as the chairman briefly, I accomplished a lot,” Lee wrote in a message on Facebook. “In the National Assembly, the party passed 480 bills during my term.”
Lee also credited himself for having passed contentious bills to establish the Corruption Investigation Office for senior public officials, to reform the prosecution, police and National Intelligence Service and to introduce measures for economic fairness. He said many governments in the past failed to succeed in making those changes, but the DP and the Moon administration managed to do so during his tenure as the chairman.
He said he is proud to have resolved many long-standing problems of society, and was lucky to work with DP lawmakers, including floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon. “Most of all, it was possible because the DP won an overwhelming majority in the last general election because of the people and party member support,” he wrote.
“From now on, I will do my best for the success of the Moon administration and advancement of the country,” Lee said. He said his top priority for now is facilitating the DP’s victory in the April 7 by-elections. Mayors of Seoul and Busan, which were both DP members in the past, will be elected next month.
After leaving the chairmanship, Lee will still chair the DP’s by-election campaigns. He will also serve as the chairman of the special committee of the party to build a new airport on Gadeok Island near Busan.
The DP will hold a national convention in May to elect Lee’s successor. Floor Leader Kim will serve as the acting chairman for the time being.
A native of South Jeolla and a former journalist at the DongA Ilbo, Lee, 68, started his political career in 2000 by becoming a lawmaker from Hampyeong and Yeonggwang counties in South Jeolla. He was reelected to three more consecutive terms and then elected South Jeolla governor in 2014.
In May 2017, President Moon Jae-in named him his first prime minister. Lee served in the post until January 2020. In April, he was elected a lawmaker from Seoul's Jongno District, central Seoul for his fifth term.
Until the end of last year, Lee was at the top of the polls for the next presidential race. His popularity, however, dropped since the beginning of this year, as Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, also a DP member, enjoyed a skyrocketing support rating.
Lee Nak-yon’s popularity also dropped further in the latest poll. After a resignation considered a slap in the face to the Moon administration, former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl soared in poll predicting next year's presidential race, overtaking top politicians from the ruling party.
In a poll by the Korea Society Opinion Institute (KSOI) conducted on Friday, Yoon’s rating hit 32.4 percent, up from 14.6 percent in KSOI's previous survey on Jan. 22.
Gyeonggi Governor Lee came in second with 24.1 percent and Lee Nak-yon third with 14.9 percent.
Poll experts and political strategists said Governor Lee’s chance is the highest to win the next year’s presidential race. The JoongAng Ilbo surveyed 10 experts, and nine replied that Governor Lee’s chance is the highest. The remaining respondent said the possibility of Governor Lee and Yoon are equal.
None of the experts in the survey forecast that the former prime minister will win the presidency.
BY SER MYO-JA, OH HYUN-SEOK [email@example.com]