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(LEAD) Lee Jun-seok wins surprise victory to head main opposition as youngest-ever leader

12:13 June 11, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 4-8, 16)

SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- Lee Jun-seok, a 36-year-old politician with no experience as a lawmaker, won a victory Friday to take the helm of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) as the youngest-ever leader of a mainstream party in modern South Korean politics.

Lee was announced the victor in the party's convention to elect its new chairman to be in charge of steering the biggest conservative party through next year's presidential election in March.

Lee secured 43.8 percent of the ballots cast online and by telephone by party members and private citizens from Monday-Thursday, defeating his four established senior rivals, including two high-profile former party floor leaders.

Runner-up Na Kyung-won, former four-term lawmaker and ex-floor leader, garnered 37.1 percent.

The election made Lee the first-ever party leader in his or her 30s to lead either the ruling party or the biggest opposition party in Korea's modern political history.

The ascent of Lee is widely seen as driven by disgruntled young voters in their 20s and 30s who envision a drastic reform in the conservative party, as well as the broader political establishment.

In his acceptance speech, Lee highlighted the importance of winning the upcoming presidential election.

"Our biggest task is to win the presidential election. I will work to make a party where various presidential candidates and their supporters can coexist," he said.

Lee Jun-seok (L) holds up his arms in celebration after winning the chairmanship of the People Power Party in a party convention on June 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

With no record of serving a parliamentary term, Lee entered the PPP's leadership race as an underdog.

But his surprise ascent in opinion polls, followed by his victory in the leadership election's primary in late May, stole the spotlight in the media, which hailed Lee's advance as mirroring voters' call for a reform of the conservative party as well as the broader political establishment.

A Harvard graduate, Lee first joined the biggest conservative party in 2011 as a member of an interim emergency leadership council at the age of 26 under the auspice of then party leader Park Geun-hye.

He later became a reform icon for the conservative bloc for his unwavering criticism of Park, who went on to become president but faced impeachment in 2017 over corruption charges.

Lee, however, came under criticism from not only outside the party but within his own party for his campaigning against the PPP's affirmative action for young or female members.

His landslide victory dealt a crushing blow to two established senior party members who ran in the leadership election -- former four-term lawmaker Na and incumbent five-term Rep. Joo Ho-young, both of whom served as floor leaders.

Lee's two-year term will begin immediately.

Lee Jun-seok waves the flag of the People Power Party after winning the party's chairmanship in a party convention on June 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

In the same party conventon, the PPP also elected four supreme council members, including Rep. Bae Hyun-jin and Cho su-jin, both first-term female lawmakers.



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