Work with opposition
New party leader should promote national unity
President Moon Jae-in's former prime minister, Lee Nak-yon, will steer the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) as he was chosen with slightly over 60 percent of the party member votes. Lee's expansive track record as former five-term lawmaker, former governor of South Jeolla Province and former journalist gave his candidacy a dominance over the other contenders.
What is significant about Lee's chairmanship is that he simultaneously is a strong possible contender in the March 2022 presidential election. While he had dropped in the popularity ratings of late being overtaken by maverick Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung, who has increasingly been vocal about issues as another possible presidential contender in the ruling bloc, Lee's ascendancy to the party's top post roundly puts him on a path toward the presidential race.
Holding a grip on a ruling party with a super majority of 176 seats can be an advantageous platform for a possible presidential contender. The sweetness of such an advantage can easily turn too saccharine. The ability and the leadership he has shown as prime minister should lead him as he rises to the challenges he faces.
He seems well aware of them. Perceived as calm and logical, Lee has shown an ability to empathize during his acceptance speech where he choked up on mentioning the peoples' suffering in the COVID-19 pandemic. In detailing the five goals he has set, he took the humble approach by defining them as five "orders" from the public. They are winning the war against COVID-19, protecting people's lives, preparing for the post-pandemic world, engaging in the politics of cooperation, and accelerating innovation.
Among the five, the politics of cooperation may test Lee most crucially. The goal has been elusive, despite repeated pledges from both parties, ever since the National Assembly opened in May. Lacking fierce and loyal support that the President enjoys in the party, Lee will have to win over core party insiders to work cooperatively with the main opposition United Future Party (UFP).
Lee is expected to visit interim UFP leader Kim Chong-in, Tuesday, and the two should make the most of the meeting to seek a way out of the DPK's arrogant unilateral passage of bills in the National Assembly and seek bipartisan cooperation on paramount issues such as fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
The public is growingly increasingly disenchanted with partisan grandstanding from both parties as people are weary and desperate for hope in these pandemic-afflicted times.
If he decides to run for office, Lee will need to resign in next March, leaving him about six months to tend to the pending challenges. It will be a short but critical time during which he must withstand pressures from within and without his party to prove himself a leader capable of fulfilling his goals through cooperation and empathy. He should work for national unity. It will be an opportunity and a risk for Lee, and also for the country.
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