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Chung's withdrawal may benefit Lee Nak-yon

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Democratic Party of Korea presidential contender Rep. Lee Nak-yon speaks during a press conference at the National Assembly on Yeouido, Seoul, Monday. Joint Press Corps
Democratic Party of Korea presidential contender Rep. Lee Nak-yon speaks during a press conference at the National Assembly on Yeouido, Seoul, Monday. Joint Press Corps

By Nam Hyun-woo

Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun's withdrawal of his presidential bid is anticipated to benefit Rep. Lee Nak-yon, another former prime minister and runner-up in the ruling Democratic Party of Korea's (DPK) presidential primary.

Chung dropped his presidential campaign on Monday, following weaker-than-expected results in the latest regional primary votes over the weekend. "As an ordinary member of the DPK, I will dedicate myself to creating a new Korea and return the support I received from the public and the party," Chung said in a press briefing at the National Assembly.

Chung's dropped out at a crucial moment, as DPK contenders will visit South and North Jeolla provinces next week for another round of regional primary elections. The provinces have traditionally been a liberal stronghold and home turf for the liberal party. The number of DPK members having voting rights in the region is estimated at 200,000.

According to Chung's camp, Chung will not endorse any of the other remaining contenders, but his withdrawal is widely anticipated as a plus for Rep. Lee Nak-yon, who is lagging behind Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung in the primary race.

Chung and Rep. Lee share a lot in common. During the primary, the two have focused on criticizing Governor Lee. Before the presidential race, they both served as prime ministers under the Moon Jae-in administration.

Chung and former Prime Minister Lee are also both from the Jeolla provinces ― Chung is from Jinan County in North Jeolla Province, and Lee is from Yeonggwang County in South Jeolla Province. Given the tendency of voters preferring contenders from their region, pundits expect the former prime minister will be able to absorb Chung's supporters.

Regarding Chung's resignation, an official from Rep. Lee's camp said, "DPK members in North Jeolla Province have been contemplating between Lee and Chung, and the withdrawal will likely give an advantage to Lee."

Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, center, leaves the National Assembly after announcing he would drop his presidential bid, Monday. Joint Press Corps
Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, center, leaves the National Assembly after announcing he would drop his presidential bid, Monday. Joint Press Corps

The remaining question is whether Rep. Lee will be able to capitalize on Chung's withdrawal and catch up with Governor Lee's solid lead.

So far, the DPK primary has conducted polls on members having voting rights in Daejeon, Sejong, South and North Chungcheong provinces, North Gyeongsang Province and Gangwon Province, and held a first round of elections for general party members and the public.

Following the votes, Governor Lee secured a 51.41 percent support rate, former Prime Minister Lee netted 31.08 percent. The gap was 20.33 percentage points, or approximately 110,000 votes.

Given Chung has secured a 4.27 percent support rate in the primaries, it is difficult to anticipate former Prime Minister Lee shooting ahead into the lead, but could be a boost for him to narrow the gap in the Jeolla provinces and following primary rounds. The outcome for the region will be revealed on Sept. 25 and 26.

Given the region has nearly 200,000 party members with voting rights, the outcome of the region's elections will be a crucial indicator for the DPK presidential candidate, as it will also affect the upcoming polls for DPK members in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and South Gyeongsang Province, as well as two more rounds of elections which will continue until Oct. 10.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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