Outspoken lawmaker elected to lead South Korean opposition

Seoul, South Korea — Firebrand lawmaker Lee Jae-myung was elected Sunday to head South Korea’s main opposition party, months after his narrow presidential defeat to conservative opponent Yoon Suk Yeol left liberals in disarray.

Lee’s dominant victory in the Democratic Party chairman’s race ends a months-long void in the leadership of the Liberals, who still control a majority in parliament. It revives its rivalry with Yoon, a relative political novice who has seen his popularity plummet since taking office in May amid a deteriorating economy, policy mishaps over education and other domestic issues, and mishandled cabinet appointments.

Lee, who won nearly 78% of party voters, was announced as the Democrats’ new chairman at a convention held at a gym stadium in the capital Seoul. In his acceptance speech, Lee criticized the Yoon government over what he described as failing to address the country’s stark economic inequalities, but also said he was willing to work with Yoon and the ruling Conservative Party if “they to take the right path for the people and country.”

He stressed that his main mission is to bring the Democrats back to power.

“Today’s convention marks the beginning of our triumphal march, including the parliamentary elections two years later, the mayoral and governorship elections four years later, and the presidential elections five years later,” Lee said as his supporters cheered and chanted his name.

Yoon defeated Lee by a historically narrow margin of 0.7 percentage points in the March election. Yoon’s spokesman, Kim Eun-hye, released a statement on Sunday congratulating Lee on his victory at the convention and calling for bipartisan cooperation to address the country’s problems.

The Democrats had not had a chairman since March and the party was led by an emergency committee after the previous leadership resigned following Lee’s loss in the presidential election.

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Lee, who called for universal basic income and involvement with nuclear-armed North Korea during the presidential campaign, is one of the most polarizing figures in South Korean politics.

Lee’s supporters appreciate his outspoken style and see him as an anti-elitist hero who can correct established politics, eradicate corruption and solve growing economic inequalities, a declining labor market and rising house prices.

To his detractors, the 57-year-old is seen as a dangerous populist who demonizes his conservative opponents and fails to back up his ambitious social spending vows with realistic financing plans.

Yoon has had a rocky start in office as he struggles with an economy ravaged by rising prices and unemployment and an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has ramped up its missile tests at a record pace this year and threatens nuclear conflict with South Korea. Korea and the USA

Yoon’s approval ratings have dropped to 30 or lower in recent weeks due to unpopular policy decisions, including an ill-explained plan to get kids to school earlier, which sparked strong public outcry and forced his education minister to resign this month. Yoon has no health minister yet, following the withdrawal of two nominees over allegations of favoritism and illegal use of campaign funds.

Yoon was also criticized for his reluctance to meet with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visited South Korea after a trip to Taiwan earlier this month that infuriated China. Yoon, who was on vacation, spoke to Pelosi over the phone rather than face-to-face. His critics accused him of avoiding her to protect relations with China.

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