(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on May 17)

What matters is public’s support, not Lee’s

The majority Democratic Party (DP) on Thursday elected Rep. Woo Won-shik, a five-term lawmaker and former floor leader, as the candidate for the speaker for the first half of the four-year term of the 22nd National Assembly. In the beginning, lawmaker-elect Choo Mi-ae, a six-term lawmaker and former DP leader, was expected to be elected as the liberal party’s candidate due to her alleged support from lawmakers close to current DP leader Lee Jae-myung. But the results of Thursday’s voting were different.

At first glance, Rep. Woo’s win with a majority of votes from peers is shocking. But looking back, his victory — and Choo’s defeat — cannot but be natural. Other senior lawmakers like Cho Jeong-sik and Jung Sung-ho gave up running for speaker at the request of new floor leader Park Chan-dae, a confidante to the current DP leader. Rep. Park Jie-won, the oldest lawmaker-elect, also gave his bid after a meeting with Lee Jae-myung.

It appeared that Lee and his allies in the party wanted to push their favorable candidate as speaker. Choo even volunteered to serve the DP leader if elected speaker rather than respecting the obligation for neutrality as head of the legislature.

In the meantime, public support for the DP plunged lower than the struggling People Power Party (PPP), which suffered a crushing defeat in the April 10 parliamentary elections. As a result of DP members’ deepening concerns about public resentment against the majority party dominated by the party leader, they must have chosen Rep. Woo. The DP must not forget that a whopping 49.5 percent of the voters didn’t support the party in the last election. The majority votes Woo received on Thursday could reflect such public sentiment.

The problem starts from now. In fact, Rep. Woo also exploited the support from the party leader. Appearing on a YouTube channel popular for Lee aficionados, Woo relayed Lee’s “full support” for him to become the next speaker of the legislature. If Woo behaves like this after being elected speaker on May 30 when the new National Assembly opens, that’s a critical mistake. We urge him to be faithful to his role as a bridge between the DP and PPP to restore the fallen integrity of speaker.

Rep. Woo’s unexpected triumph in the party race sends a stern message to the DP ahead of the August election to choose its new leader. Lawmakers close to Lee insist on the extension of his two-year term as party leader. But Thursday’s election clearly shows that what matters is not Lee’s support but the public’s. If the DP leader and his allies ignore such reality, they will see another shocking result in its national convention three months later.

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