A sharp-tongued veteran politician has become the new leader of a key political party in South Korea at a time when the country is roiled by an illegal funding of politicians scandal.
Five-term legislator Chough Soon-hyung was elected late on Friday to lead the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), which put former president Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun in the country's top job.
Chough, 68, beat off seven candidates for the top spot at the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP)'s national convention, receiving 3,199, or 31.03 percent, of the 5,046 votes cast.
A 45-year-old female politician, Choo Mi-Ae, took second place with a 21 percent vote. The former court judge has thus laid the foundation for a challenge to become South Korea's first female president.
Chough is a rare politician with a clean image in South Korea's political circle tainted with corruption scandals. He has never been involved in any corruption allegations.
"I will accept people's demand for changes and reform to renovate our party," said Chough in an acceptance speech. "It's time for the MDP to take the lead in overcoming the national crisis."
The change of leadership has given new momentum for solidarity to the party, which suffered a split in September when loyalists to the current president deserted the party to create a separate political group, the Uri Party.
Chough will lead the MDP through next April's parliamentary elections in which the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) is likely to benefit from the division of its main liberal rival.
Currently the GNP has 149 seats in the 272-member National Assembly, followed by the MDP with 60 seats and Uri Party with 44 seats. Others include independents and splinter groups.
President Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected last year on the MDP ticket, left the party in September. Outraged, the MDP called him a "turncoat."
Chough urged the GNP to end a boycott of parliament and return to parliamentary work.
GNP Chairman Choe Byung-yul, has been on a hunger strike since Wednesday, accusing Roh of covering up corruption surrounding his former aides.
A probe into the scandal, however, has ensnared members of all three parties, with the GNP suspected of taking some eight million dollars of illegal funds from SK business group.
The GNP's boycott of parliament added a political crisis to tough challenges facing South Korea that include an economic downturn, North Korea's nuclear program and a sensitive US request to send more troops to Iraq.