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Im Jong-seok set for potential political return

Jan 22,2020
Speculation grew Tuesday that Im Jong-seok, President Moon Jae-in’s former chief of staff, will return to politics as he was selected as a keynote speaker to promote the ruling party’s vision and policy.

The Democratic Party (DP) said in a press release on Tuesday that it will broadcast speeches on the party’s platform and policy. Former Blue House Chief of Staff Im was scheduled to broadcast his speech on Tuesday and Rep. Kim Boo-kyum on Wednesday.

It will mark Im’s first public activity since he made a surprise announcement in November that he would retire from politics and not run in the April 15 general elections. “I will leave the politics of the establishment and return to where I was,” Im said at the time. “From now on, I want to devote myself to the unification movement.”

According to the DP, Im’s speech will be about Moon’s “peace economy vision” to promote prosperity and peace of the two Koreas based on the Korea-U.S. alliance and inter-Korean peace.

Although Im had declared that he won’t run in the general elections, expectations are growing in the DP that he should recant the decision. “The leadership largely agrees that Im should play a role in the general election,” a DP official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency. “He must run and take the lead for the party’s victory.”

Another senior DP official also said DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan has been exchanging opinions with Im. “The party already started a survey to decide a district, mostly likely in the capital region,” he said.

Sources said Im may be nominated for Jongno District of central Seoul, where he is currently living. They also said the party is considering Gwangjin B District of eastern Seoul, currently represented by Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, or Jung-Seongdong B District of central and eastern Seoul, Im’s former constituency. Jangheung of South Jeolla, Im’s hometown, could also be a possibility, they said.

A symbolic race between former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn was expected in Jongno District, but that prospect has grown increasingly dimmer over recent weeks. DP officials have said Lee should head the party’s election campaign and win a seat as a proportional lawmaker, instead of focusing on his own race.

Others said Im should run in Gwangjin B, because former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon will likely run there as the LKP candidate.

If Im runs in the April election, he is destined to face fierce attacks from the LKP for recanting his political retirement after just three months.

Im was a prominent student activist during the 1980s, particularly famous for having orchestrated an illegal propaganda visit by another activist, Lim Su-kyung, to North Korea in 1989. He started his political career by winning a lawmaker seat in 2000. He was reelected in 2004 and later served as the deputy mayor of Seoul.

He worked on Moon’s presidential campaign and served as the presidential chief of staff from May 2017 until January 2019.

Meanwhile, the DP said it has postponed a decision on whether former presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom is fit to run as a primary candidate or not. Kim resigned in March last year after explosive backlash to reports that he dabbled in real estate speculation, possibly with inside information. Last month, he declared his bid to run in Gunsan, North Jeolla, as a DP candidate.

The DP’s candidate vetting committee said Monday it needs further information from Kim about the real estate speculation controversy. The committee already conducted a review on Jan. 14, but postponed its decision.

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