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People’s Party leadership race heats up ahead of Sunday’s party convention

The race for People’s Party leadership intensified Sunday, with only a week left before the party’s national convention.

The four contenders -- Ahn Cheol-soo, Rep. Chun Jung-bae, Chung Dong-young and Lee Un-ju -- each raised their voice to appeal to voters with three of the candidates using the opportunity to attack Ahn, the party’s founder and most prominent candidate in the race.

Ahn, who ran in May’s presidential election on the party’s ticket, reiterated that he would take the role of a “commander-in-chief” in the upcoming local election in June. He also said he will run for Seoul Mayor if needed. 

From left are Reps. Chun Jung-bae, Lee Un-ju, Ahn Cheol-soo and Chung Dong-young from minor opposition People's Party. (Yonhap)
From left are Reps. Chun Jung-bae, Lee Un-ju, Ahn Cheol-soo and Chung Dong-young from minor opposition People's Party. (Yonhap)

“I will stand in the frontline and be the commander in chief to lead the party to victory in the local election,” he said in a press conference in the party’s Gwangju headquarters, Sunday.

“Where there is demand for my role, I will go and run -- including the Seoul Mayor position,” he added, to confirm his previous remark in a local radio interview on Wednesday. There, Ahn said “any possibilities” are open when asked about his run for the mayor position.

Rep. Chun said he will make a party that is not sided to regionalism or ideology. He, however, stressed that the party should stand on its own, as there are opinions on building a possible alliance with the minor conservative Bareun Party, in a televised debate on Saturday.

Rep. Chung vowed to become a strong leader who can unite the party. “The core values of this year’s party convention are competition, cooperation and union. We need a heated debate on how we would revive the fallen party,” he said, adding that the party should also cooperate with the minor conservative bloc.

Two-term lawmaker Lee Un-ju also said the public sentiment is changing fast, and claimed that she is rallying support inside the party.

“I am currently competing for the second place against Rep. Chung. If I win the run-off, I am more capable (than others) to expand the party’s supporter base,” she said. Rep. Lee defected from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea in April.

On Wednesday, a number of party members in Incheon made a statement in support of Ahn, which the opponents attacked that their actions violates the party’s election regulations, as it creates a “factional divide” inside.

The party’s election committee gave out a disciplinary warning on the following day, but the rivals called it too light of a punishment.

While Ahn appears to be a leading candidate, the outlook of the race is unpredictable. Who can rally the most support from the Honam region is seen as a big factor that can sway the result of the election, as half of its 240,000 party members are from the southern city of Gwangju and Jeolla Provinces.

Former party co-chair Rep. Chun and four-term lawmaker Rep. Chung are bigwigs based in the region, and they may unite to stop Ahn’s win.

The party has also adopted a run-off election system, which means a candidate has to win a majority to be elected in the first round. With the votes expected to be divided in the four-way race, it is also possible for a runner-up candidate to gather votes against Ahn.

In the latest poll by Gallup, the People’s Party currently stands last in the list of five parties at the National Assembly with a 4 percent approval rating, a percentage point behind the far-left Justice Party which holds six parliamentary seats.

The People’s Party, after their loss in the presidential election, struggled from a fake tip-off scandal, in which rank-and-file members were arrested for fabricating an election-season allegation that President Moon Jae-in‘s son landed a full-time job at a public agency in late 2006 due to his father.

The ruling Democratic Party is leading the poll with 47 percent in the survey to 1,006 respondents.

By Jo He-rim (