(Bloomberg) -- The victory of South Korea’s main opposition party in parliamentary elections has made its leader a top contender for president in 2027, as long as he can manage a fickle public and stay ahead of a legal battle that could land him in prison before then.

Lee Jae-myung emerged from the election with a strong enough majority for the progressive bloc led by his Democratic Party to dictate the course of legislation and pressure the conservative ruling People Power Party to make concessions if it wants to get anything done. 

An advocate of a universal basic income, Lee had proposed while he was on the campaign trail a total 13 trillion won ($9.5 billion) in cash handouts to citizens as a way to revive the economy. His Democratic Party has been looking to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and the chaebol conglomerates that dominate the corporate landscape.

It’s all quite a turnaround for a person who lost the presidential race in 2022 by a razor-thin margin and was then indicted over a variety of bribery and breach of duty charges. This raised questions within his party over whether he was damaging its image, but the victory in the Wednesday election showed he can connect with voters.

“Lee has managed to make the Democratic Party his party and cement his grip on power while embracing the moderates,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University in South Korea. 

Voters’ discontent and the desire to hand down a “verdict” on the government appears to have overshadowed Lee’s own legal problems, Shin said.

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Lee’s Democratic Party bloc expanded its majority with 175 seats, according to the National Election Commission, a major victory that paves the way for the opposition leader to take the driver’s seat and eye another try at the presidency.

A former factory worker who later became a civil rights lawyer, Lee has been in politics for more than 15 years as a member of the progressive camp — becoming governor of Gyeonggi province surrounding Seoul in 2018. He has pushed to make the country Asia’s first to introduce a universal basic income.

He is also one of the most polarizing political figures in the country with a fervent base of supporters on the left and a large block of opponents in the conservative camp. Lee has been clouded by scandals in his personal life and a probe into land speculation in Seongnam, a city where Lee served as mayor. He has denied any wrongdoing and called the legal proceedings against him politically motivated.

Read more: South Korean Party Leader Was Stabbed by Stalker Over Politics

Lee survived a stabbing earlier this year that police said appeared to be politically motivated.

Lee appeared at court just two days after the election, a second appearance in a week, demonstrating the headwinds he will face if he tries again for the presidency. 

Entering the courtroom Friday, Lee declined to respond to reporters asking about the possibility of losing his parliamentary seat pending court rulings. 

Also getting the spotlight is Cho Kuk, who launched a new party a month before the election that went on to garner 12 seats — the third largest of all parties that competed in this year’s parliamentary vote.  

Cho, a justice minister during the administration of Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in, had left office in disgrace. He was charged and later convicted of academic fraud and unlawful interference with a government inspection. The case is now pending appeal at the country’s top court.

Cho may also battle Lee for attention and his party has enough votes in parliament that it could be the difference-maker in steamrolling legislation through the body. How Lee and Cho may cooperate is an open question, but the two left the election with new winds in their sails.

Park Won-ho, a political science professor at Seoul National University, said it might be “about time to accept” that there are as many people who think Lee and Cho should go to jail as there are people who support them as political opposition leaders.

“At least that’s what this week’s vote results are telling us,” Park said. 

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