South Korea’s ruling party names maverick politician in race

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The ruling Liberal Party in South Korea nominated its candidate for next year’s presidential elections on Sunday, selecting a maverick politician known for his outspoken views who is currently the frontrunner of the race.

Lee Jae-myung’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate comes despite efforts by rivals to portray him as a dangerous populist and tie him to a snowballing real estate scandal.

Lee pledged to fight economic inequality, introduce a universal basic income and resume reconciliation projects with North Korea.

In his acceptance speech, Lee bowed deeply on several occasions and said he wanted to launch what he called a public appeal to “eliminate injustice, inequality and corruption” and take other action. radical reform.

“I would hold back the excessive desires of the strong and protect the lives of the weak. I would protect jobs, incomes and the well-being of people, ”said Lee.

Party officials said Lee garnered around 50.3% of all votes cast during the race, beating three challengers in a party primary that ended on Sunday.

Lee, 56, is the governor of South Korea’s most populous Gyeonggi province which surrounds the capital Seoul. He is known as a tough-talking liberal who has carved out an image of a dissenting personality. He is also famous for his self-taught success story working as a boy as a factory worker, a period that left him with a handicap in his arm, before making his way to school and passing the examining the country’s notoriously difficult bar to work as a human rights lawyer.

Before becoming governor in 2018, Lee served as mayor of Seongnam, a town inside Geyonggi, for eight years. Previously a political underdog, he rose sharply amid public anger over an explosive corruption scandal in 2016-17 that ultimately led to the ouster of Conservative President Park Geun-hye.

Lee said that if elected, he would focus on alleviating the economic polarization and deep-rooted inequalities in South Korea which he says cause other social problems, as well as hamper economic growth in South Korea. South Korea.

Some of his campaign actions and engagements have drawn accusations from critics that they are ideas driven by populism. Among them, it provided a COVID-19 relief fund to all residents of Gyeonggi, contrary to the central government’s decision to give this money to only 88% of the country’s population; a pledge to adopt a universal basic income to give all citizens at least 1 million won ($ 840) each year; and an incentive not to charge tolls for cars over a bridge in Gyeonggi.

Lee has also faced a growing political offensive from his opponents over a questionable real estate development project in Seongnam that was started while he was mayor there. A former senior city official has been arrested in the wake of the scandal. A small asset management company and its subsidiaries made huge profits from the project and suspicion exists of possible corrupt links between them, city officials and other prominent figures.

The election on March 9 next year is likely to be a two-way street between Lee and whoever wins the nomination of the main conservative opposition People Power Party in November. The most recent polls put Lee ahead of one of two main Tory presidential hopefuls, although some have indicated they are in a neck-and-neck competition.

The election aims to find a successor to current President Moon Jae-in, a Democratic Party member whose only five-year term has been marked by dramatic ups and downs in relations with North Korea, a worsening conservative-liberal divide at home and various economic woes.

Regarding North Korea, Lee said he would adopt a policy of appeasement similar to Moon’s. He said he would seek relief from international sanctions against the North to resume stalled inter-Korean cooperation projects. To resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, Lee said he would propose that each of North Korea’s denuclearization steps be accompanied by a relaxation of sanctions that can be reinstated if the North does not meet its disarmament commitments. .

These proposals were not something new and it is not clear whether they could be realized. The United States said the sanctions will remain in place unless North Korea takes concrete steps towards denuclearization.

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