South Korea President's prominent rival set to lead opposition

The Democratic Party is set to elect Mr Lee Jae-myung on Aug 28 to lead the charge against President Yoon Suk-yeol. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korea's main opposition is expected to pick a high-profile rival of the president as its new leader, adding to the government's challenges as it struggles to build support after three months in office.

The progressive Democratic Party is set to elect Mr Lee Jae-myung on Sunday (Aug 28) to take over as boss and lead the charge against conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Mr Lee, a populist pushed to introduce universal basic income, narrowly lost to Mr Yoon in the presidential election in March in a bitterly contested presidential election where the candidates berated each other on the campaign trail.

Mr Lee, who has emerged as the front-runner during primary contests, would face the challenge of reviving a Democratic Party that dominates Parliament but has been losing major elections - including races in June for provincial governors and mayors of the two biggest cities of Seoul and Busan.

Public sentiment toward the party soured when it controlled the presidency for five years from 2017 and housing costs soared, with average apartment prices in Seoul doubling during that time.

Mr Lee has vowed to fight the Yoon administration's "misdoings". This includes the President's attempt to create a police bureau that could allow his government to assume greater control over the powerful law enforcement agency.

Since taking office in May, Mr Yoon has seen his support rate fall to among the lowest for any South Korean president at a similar point in their term due to policy missteps. These include the plan for the police bureau and unpopular moves such as lowering the age of school entry a year to five.

Mr Yoon's approval rating was at 27 per cent in a weekly Gallup Korea tracking poll released Friday.

One worry for Mr Yoon would be a further slip in the polls. This could embolden the Democrats to consider whether to muster its majority in Parliament that is large enough to push through an impeachment measure or override any veto from Mr Yoon.

Mr Lee has served as mayor of Seongnam, south of Seoul, and governor of South Korea's most populous province before he ran for presidency. He has also been under a cloud of suspicion due to a real estate speculation scandal that unfolded when he was mayor.

Mr Lee has denied any wrongdoing, while several people close to him have faced police investigation.

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