South Korea’s main opposition People Power Party announced 36-year-old Lee Jun-seok as its chairman on Friday, making him the youngest-ever leader of a major political party in the country’s history.
Lee, an entrepreneur and Harvard graduate who has never held elected office, defeated his closest rival, four-term lawmaker Na Kyung-won, by a vote of 43.8% to 37.1% at the party’s national convention. The elections used a combined form of voting from party members and opinion polls from the general public.ADVERTISEMENT
In his acceptance speech, Lee stressed “coexistence” with the various factions within the conservative party ahead of the presidential election in March 2022.
“Our top task is to win the presidential election, and in the process, we will create a party that can coexist with its supporters,” he said.
Lee added that the party should be “tolerant of young people expressing their opinions.”
“We must be reborn as a more attractive party,” Lee, who has staked a position as a reformer, said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who departed for Britain on Friday afternoon to be a guest at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit, congratulated Lee by phone, the presidential Blue House said in a statement sent to reporters.
Moon said Lee’s win would “go down in political history,” according to the statement.
“I think it a sign of change not only in politics but also in South Korea [as a whole],” he said.
Mayoral by-elections held in April revealed a major demographic shift in the country’s political landscape, with young men in their twenties — traditionally a progressive-leaning bloc — turning out in large majorities for People Power Party candidates, who swept to overwhelming victories in Seoul and Busan.
Anger over issues such as soaring real estate prices, economic inequality and a land speculation scandal at state housing developer LH have helped turn public opinion against the ruling Democratic Party. Among young men, a backlash against rising feminism in South Korea has also been simmering for years, leading to more conservative voting patterns.
A survey by pollster Realmeter released earlier this week found the PPP’s approval rating at 38%, while the DP lagged at 29.7%.
Lee has worked in various capacities with South Korea’s conservative party establishment as a consultant since 2011 but lost his bids for a seat in the National Assembly in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
The rising political star has performed well in some polls for potential presidential candidates next year, but he is too young to run for the office, which requires a minimum age of 40. There has been public debate recently over lowering the age restriction, with a Realmeter survey last week showing 50.3% supporting such a change to 44.8% against.