Ahn Cheol-soo, former boss of the splinter opposition People’s Party, was elected as new representative of the People’s party voting at the national convention winning 51.09% of the vote and capping a tumultuous two-week campaign marked by rivals' blistering attacks over his candidacy. In a leadership election, the entrepreneur-turned-politician won 51.09 percent of the vote, avoiding a run-off. He beat three other contenders, Reps. Chung Dong-young, Chun Jung-bae and Lee Un-ju, who scored 28.36 percent, 16.6 percent and 3.95 percent, respectively.
Ahn will fill the top post that has been vacant since former leader Park Jie-won bowed out in May over the drubbing in the presidential election. The new leader's term is set to last until January 2019.
In his acceptance speech, Ahn vowed to reshape his party to better keep the ruling camp in check and cement its identity as a "practical, middle-of-the-road" political force.
"The government may grow more self-righteous and arrogant, and that is what power is about," he said. "To keep this in check is the first task the people have given to the opposition party," he said.
"The People's Party will establish a clear identity... We will not be stuck in the exclusive political left or exteme right-wing bloc," he added.
The lawmaker also vowed to win in the gubernatorial and mayoral elections slated for next June, saying another loss would put the party in a life-or-death crisis.
"Our party will survive as a robust force and win in the local elections," he pledged.
At the start of the campaign, odds appeared stacked against Ahn as his rivals and some party ranks opposed his election bid, demanding he stay low-key for the time being to take responsibility for a humiliating defeat in the May presidential vote and a fake tip-off scandal.
Ahn, however, forged ahead, stressing his sense of urgency to shore up the embattled party that has seen its popularity tumble since allegations erupted in June that a party member fabricated an election-season tip-off against President Moon Jae-in's son.
The scandal has dealt a dispiriting blow to Ahn's political career, though the prosecution cleared him last month of any involvement. It also seriously tarnished the party's image as a champion of a "clean, new" politics.
The foremost priority for Ahn will be to bring together a divided party, overcome the aftermath of the scandal and regroup ahead of the upcoming local elections, which are seen as a public referendum on Moon's first year in office, observers said.
Ahn served as a co-chair of the party for some four months from February last year. He stepped down in June over a corruption scandal involving several party members.
In Sunday's election, the party also picked lawyer Chang Jin-young and Park Joo-won, a regional party chapter chief, as the members of the party's top decision-making Supreme Council. Rep. Park Joo-hyun and Lee Tae-woo were also elected to lead the party's woman and youth panels, respectively.
After the election, the president congratulated Ahn on his election, voicing hope that he can show the "leadership of new politics," Ahn's aide told Yonhap News Agency.
Ahn, in turn, pledged to cooperate in enhancing people's livelihoods and national interests, while urging Moon to strive to build cooperative ties with the opposition-led parliament through closer communication.