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'97 group' lawmakers throw hats into DPK leadership race

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Rep. Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), left, speaks with Rep. Park Yong-jin, right, who declared his candidacy for the party's leadership, during a general meeting at the National Assembly, Thursday. Park is one of the
Rep. Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), left, speaks with Rep. Park Yong-jin, right, who declared his candidacy for the party's leadership, during a general meeting at the National Assembly, Thursday. Park is one of the "97 group" of lawmakers, which refers to the generation of politicians who were born in the 1970s and attended university in the '90s, who are challenging Lee's bid to be party chairman at the DPK convention in August. Joint Press Corps

By Kwon Mee-yoo

A group of younger lawmakers in the main opposition party announced their bids for the party's leadership position, calling for a generational shift inside the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

The ruling party plans to hold a national convention on Aug. 28 to elect a new leader after its humiliating defeats in the presidential and local elections. And lawmakers in their early 50s are throwing their hats into the ring, challenging frontrunner Lee Jae-myung, who was the DPK's presidential contender for the March 10 presidential election.

The so-called "97 group," which refers to the generation of DPK lawmakers who were born in the 1970s and attended university in the '90s, is emerging as a new faction to stop Lee from gaining dominance over the party.

Rep. Park Yong-jin, 51, declared his candidacy for the DPK chairman post, Thursday, saying that his decision reflects mounting anticipation among lawmakers to revive the party.

Park stressed that the DPK has to overcome the limits of infighting and "fandom politics" to revamp the progressive party.

"Someone who thinks and acts differently from the previous DPK should lead the innovation of the party," Park said,

On Wednesday, Rep. Kang Byung-won, 52, also announced his bid to become the party's leader.

Kang also targeted Lee, saying, "If a person who wants to be the party's leader does not listen to the party members' opinions, that person cannot not exercise leadership even if he becomes the chairman."

Other DPK lawmakers of the 97 group, including Kang Hoon-sik and Park Joo-min, also plan to vie for the DPK leadership.

The 97 group is supported by DPK lawmakers who are loyal to former President Moon Jae-in. Key DPK members, Hong Young-pyo and Jeon Hae-cheol, gave up their candidacy for the party's leadership to make way for a generational shift.

Rep. Cho Eung-cheon of the DPK said during a radio show on Thursday that the party convention is likely to be a race between Lee and the 97 group.

"When there is a change of pace, there could be demands for a breath of fresh air within the party," Cho said.

There is speculation that the 97 group of lawmakers will field a unified candidate after bolstering their presence in the party as Lee is a political heavyweight and the frontrunner for the party's leadership position.

Rep. Kang Byung-won said he is open to a unified candidacy.

"The 97 group members are competing against each other, but we have a unified candidacy in mind in the end," Kang said on a radio show. "The 97 group of lawmakers… have to promote [ourselves] individually first before we push for a generational change."

Lee has not yet officially announced his bid for the party chairman post, but is expected to throw in his hat soon. Despite pressure not to run for the party's leadership position, Lee resumed communication via his social media, Thursday, urging DPK members to focus on issues involving the people's livelihood instead of political disputes within the party.

Meanwhile, Park Ji-hyun, a 26-year-old activist-turned-politician, who served as co-leader of the DPK from March to early June, participated in a public event for the first time in Friday. She was considered as a new wave in the party, but resigned after the DPK's defeat in the June 1 local elections.

She remained tight-lipped regarding the upcoming party convention, saying that she would make an announcement about that later.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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