Ruling party kicks off convention to pick new chairman amid pandemic

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is set to kick off a convention to elect its new leader and top party representatives Saturday in an unprecedented virtual congress arranged in response to the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
The convention, set to begin at 1 p.m. at the party’s headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul, will be attended by only a limited number of party members in person to avert any potential COVID-19 infection risks.
It was initially arranged as a mass event involving hundreds of party members and delegates at a sports arena, but the party shifted it into a virtual, livestreamed event earlier this month in light of the recent surge in virus transmissions in Seoul and the broader capital area.
The two-year party chairmanship is up for grabs, along with five top party representative seats
Former Prime Minister Rep. Lee Nak-yon was leading the opinion polls for candidates by an overwhelming margin, trailed by former Home Minister and former four-term lawmaker Kim Boo-kyum and two-term lawmaker Rep. Park Ju-min.
According to the latest Gallup Korea survey, conducted from Aug. 18-20, 48 percent of the 1,002 people polled threw their support behind Lee. Kim had 15 percent support, and Park was favored by 8 percent.
Winning the chairmanship is expected to further cement Lee’s apparent bid for the presidency. He had been leading the opinion polls for presidential candidates for over a year, though he lost the lead to Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung in latest polls in August.
A total of eight party members, including Rep. Noh Woong-rae and Rep. So Byung-hoon, are running for the five top party representative seats.
The convention, however, will be held without the on-site presence of major convention players, including Lee Nak-yon, the party’s outgoing Chairman Lee Hae-chan and floor leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon.
After coming in indirect contact with a COVID-19 patient, Rep. Lee Nak-yon was placed under self-quarantine till the end of the month. Having campaigned from home since last week, he has arranged to deliver his acceptance speech virtually if he wins the chairmanship.
Outgoing Chairman Lee Hae-chan and the floor leader have also been under self-quarantine after coming into contact with a photojournalist who tested positive earlier this week.
Both of the party leaders tested negative, but they were unlikely to join the event in person and may address the event online.
Despite the recent setbacks overshadowing the convention, the party said it will push ahead with it as rescheduled, in thorough compliance with quarantine requirements.
The party’s convention preparation committee said it will keep the simultaneous assemblage on and around the convention stage to less than 10 people throughout the event, a standard required under the country’s toughest Level Three social distancing.
The DP has been angling for a major face-lifting effect from the convention, as it is desperately seeking to reboot itself amid low public support ratings for the party.
Stagnating approval ratings for the Moon Jae-in administration have also been weighing on the party.
Party officials were, however, positive that the convention may provide a fresh impetus.
“Unlike our initial misgivings, the voting rates among party members and delegates turned out pretty high … supporters and party members seem to have rallied around the party against difficult situations like the pandemic,” a party official said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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