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Democrats narrow field of candidates for party chair to 3

July 27,2018
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The ruling party narrowed down its field of candidates for party chairman to three on Thursday, ahead of a leadership election at its national convention next month.

Lee Hae-chan, Kim Jin-pyo and Song Young-gil were chosen by 405 out of 440 eligible electors as the final three candidates out of eight contenders vying for the Democratic Party’s top position.

The current chairwoman, five-term lawmaker Choo Mi-ae, was elected in August 2016 and is set to become the first leader to serve out a full term in the party’s history.

The three candidates are expected to launch their campaigns immediately and will engage in debates and rallies leading up to the party’s national convention on Aug. 25, when registered party members will elect one of them as their new chief.

Eight other members will also be elected to serve on the supreme council, the party’s executive decision-making body.

The lack of any major elections - and therefore little likelihood of a premature exit due to a loss - within the next two years means that the next chairman will likely wield control over the party’s candidate nominations in the next legislative elections in 2020, a power coveted by all factions in the Democratic Party.

With President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings still hovering high despite a recent dip, the party hopes to expand its standing in the National Assembly, in which no single party currently holds an absolute majority.

While they have a plurality of 130 seats, the Democrats remain dependent on the opposition to support their legislative aims. Talk has been circulating about a broad coalition comprising liberal-minded parties. On Monday, the Blue House said the president was considering the inclusion of opposition figures in his cabinet, but the proposal was met with fire by other parties.

The Democratic Party’s next chair will be responsible for resolving the current gridlock and pushing the administration’s agenda through a fractured legislature.

Lee, whom many analysts predict will win the race in August, is one of the most tenured figures in the legislature, having served seven terms and as prime minister from 2004 to 2006 in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He has favored an alliance with minor progressive parties and says his political experience will help buttress the president during his second year in office.

Kim, a four-term lawmaker, served as finance and education minister in the Roh years. Building upon his economic background, he has pledged to place the economy at the forefront of the party’s attention amid continuing signs of a slowdown.

Song, also a four-term lawmaker, served as mayor of Incheon from 2010 to 2014 and as Moon’s special envoy to Russia last year. This is his second time running for the party’s top post. He has promised to unite the party toward a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim and Song face an uphill fight against the battle-hardened Lee, who previously served as head of the Democratic United Party, one of the Democratic Party’s predecessors, from June to November 2012. Lee is widely cited as one of the most influential leaders of the ruling party’s pro-Moon faction.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]