Sohn Hak-kyu rises as progressive standard-bearer
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Sohn Hak-kyu rises as progressive standard-bearer

I mentioned last week that Sohn Hak-kyu, the former Gyeonggi province governor from the conservative Grand National Party, had advanced to become the chair of the progressive Democatic Party.

The other shoe has dropped; Sohn now finds himself the leading potential presidential candidate among progressives. The latest Realmeter poll has Sohn at 12.7 percent, up from 11.5 percent in their previous poll. That represented the biggest shift among any of the major candidates.

Sohn gain has primarily come at the expense of Han Myung-sook. The former prime minister under Roh Moo-hyun, who had been among the leading progressives until recently, saw her support fall from 9.6 to 8.5 percent. Han had enjoyed a surge of support during her unsuccessful race for Seoul mayor earlier this year. I expect Han’s fade to continue as some Democratic Party members cast about for a new face to challenge Sohn.
/>And search they will. In his first interview after winning the chairmanship, Sohn reminded the more militant members of the Democratic Party why they do not trust him:

The liberals should no longer deny growth… To win the presidency, we must give confidence to the people that they can make a living [under our leadership]. If the liberals do not have the ability to facilitate growth, they become useless. We must become able, competent liberals.

I am not sure how ready the Democrats are to go the Tony Blair route.

A worst case scenario for the Democrats would be for former party chairman and Unification minster Chung Dong-young, who defeated Sohn for the party’s presidential nomination in 2007, to once again emerge as Sohn’s primary challenger. That would leave the party with an unappetizing replay of that ultimately disastrous campaign, in which Chung was crushed by the GNP’s Lee Myung-bak in the general election. Chung finished a close second to Sohn in the recent Democratic Party chair race, getting 19.35 percent to Sohn’s 21.37 percent.

Thatconcern is especially important in the face of former Health and Welfare minister Rhyu Si-min’s continued strength. Rhyu, from the minor People’s Participation Party, saw his support hold steady in the Realmeter poll at 12.3 percent. A replay of the Sohn-Chung nomination fight in 2012 would likely drive dissatisfied Democratic party members to Rhyu’s PPP, making it difficult for the Korean left to field a unity candidate.

The GNP’s Park Geun-hye leads all potential candidates with 29.4 percent, although the collective total of all potential progressive candidates nearly matches the total for all their conservative counterparts.