Will Korea have another Harvard-educated political leader after Syngman Rhee?
Will Korea have another Harvard-educated political leader after Syngman Rhee?
  • By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media
  • 승인 2021.06.05 18:18
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With Lee Jun-seok winning the main opposition PPP leadership

Will South Korea have another President with an advanced educational background in the United States, Korea’s most-trusted friend in the world?

Lee Jun-seok
Lee Jun-seok


 Korea has had none since the late President Syngman Rhee (in office from July 1945 to April 1960).
Now 36-year-old Lee Jun-seok, who is running for the leadership of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), is from Harvard for the first time in the recent history of political elections in Korea—after the late first-term President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea.
Why ask the educational background of the political candidates of the political leaders in Korea?
It may not be so much the name of the university as the country of education of the candidate. Many people in Korea, especially the established generation, tend to favor those who have had their advanced training in the United States who is Korea’s most trusted ally in the world.
Unlike most of his predecessors, incumbent President Moon Jae-in seems to be surrounded by people who make a clear contrast with those of most his predecessors who are considered to be pro-U.S. and pro-West.
A full swing-back to a pro-U.S. stance, however, would not be easy—although the general trends in Korea are in favor of such a move which was clearly shown in the latest elections in Seoul and Busan, the capital and the second largest city in Korea, respectively, where conservative leaders won an all-but landslide victory over the incumbent Democratic Party.
Last year, Korea’s largest export-target country was China with 25.5% of the total volume followed by the U.S. (14.5%), Vietnam (9.5%), Hong Kong (6%), Japan (4.9%) and Taiwan (3.2%). South Korea, with very little natural resources, heavily depends on industry and export.
China is a country today who naturally has a considerable influence on South Korea, especially in the economic and commercial area.
All the same, in the opinion of many people in Korea, the ROK has swung too steeply toward China under the incumbent government and the political party.

Na Kyung-won
Na Kyung-won


So, what are the political tendencies of the Korean people today?
According to a survey conducted by Korea Administrative Research Institute in October 2020, middle-of-the-roaders are the largest with 47.6% followed by progressives with 26.8% and conservatives with 25.7%.
Lee who is running for the leadership of the main opposition political camp seems to be well aware of this.
So, what are Lee’s chances of winning the chairmanship of the main opposition party?
He has to compete with Mme. Na Kyung-won, former National Assembly floor leader of the PPP, who has a much longer history and experience as a leader of the main opposition party.
Lee is called by many people as ‘a rising sun’ in the opposition political camp with a large measure of wisdom, but has a relatively short measure of experience as a politician, let alone a political leader.
The decision will be made on June 11, 2021 at the national convention of the PPP.

Brief personal history of Lee Jun-seok from Wikipedia:
Lee Jun-seok
Born   on March 31, March 1985 (age 36)
Political party: People Power Party
Parents: Lee Su-wol (father)
Alma mater: Harvard University
Lee Jun-seok is the incumbent chairman of the Korean Independent Baseball Association since 2017. He is also a founder of Edushare, an educational service organization. He was one of the 11-member Grand National Party’s (later Saenuri Party then Liberty Korea Party) Leadership Council, being the youngest member ever to sit on the Council that was given the power to overhaul the Party. He unsuccessfully contested for Nowon 3rd for 3 times. He is the most favorable candidate at the 2021 People Power Party leadership election.
Lee studied in an American school in Indonesia for one year, and later attended and graduated from Seoul Science High School. Once admitted to KAIST, Lee transferred to Harvard University and received a B.A. in Economics and Computer Science.
Work Experience:
Lee interned as South Korean lawmaker Yoo Seong-min's assistant.
In lieu of military service, he did alternative service at Innotive, an IT firm owned by Nexon, as a junior software engineer. During his service he founded Edushare, a service organization similar to Teach for America to provide academic services to students who are a part of low-income families.
Lee first began the organization by an online plea in Seoul Science High Alumni website to recruit volunteers.
In 2010, he founded ClasseStudio, an online education startup along with the people he met at Innotive.
Grand National Party Leadership Council:
Being a part of the Leadership Council of the Party, Lee's role was to make key decisions on behalf of the party, including the selection of candidates to run in the parliamentary elections in April. Pundits view the appointment to appeal to the younger demographic and counter the surging popularity of Ahn Cheol-soo.
Lee's background in computer science and a track record of public service resemble those of Ahn and some see that as the reason for the appointment. Lee remained as a member of Saenuri Party after Park Geun-hye became the President of South Korea.

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