South Korea’s leading liberal candidate, Lee Jae-myung, kicked off his presidential campaign with a speech that spoke directly to the country’s simmering fury and the growing middle class. its difficulty.
“We must open up a world where all can live well together, take care of the weak, and curb the vanity of the strong, who often use privilege and play baddies,” said Mr. Lee. speak in a video address last summer.
According to experts, the biggest challenge facing the labor politician-lawyer in this race is that he must represent the ruling Democratic Party while distinguishing himself from President Moon Jae-in.
Although Mr. Moon has enjoyed a high approval rating compared to most South Korean presidents, the country continues to suffer from soaring housing prices and youth unemployment crisis under his supervision.
Born in 1964 in the small eastern town of Andong, in North Gyeongsang Province, Mr. Lee was known by his former nickname “factory boy” and is the son of a domestic worker who got out of poverty to become a successful mayor and governor.
One of seven children, he dropped out of middle school to work at various factories in the northwestern city of Seongnam, about 12.5 miles from Seoul. According to Mr. Lee, a number of accidents at work – including one where his arm got caught in a press – left him legally disabled as a teenager, when Korea exempt him from its mandatory military service.
Mr. Lee then earned a high school diploma and won a scholarship to Seoul’s Chung-Ang University. After graduation, he returned to the town he had worked for as a child to open his own office as a labor attorney.
As for his background, he has long considered those experiences as an inspiration for him to enter politics. He was elected mayor of Seongnam in 2010, a position he held for about eight years. During that time, he created a citywide social welfare program, introduced a modest universal basic income program for youth, and provided free use of school uniforms. and postpartum care.
As governor of Gyeonggi, South Korea’s most populous province, from 2018 to 2021, Mr. Lee impressed voters when he quickly resolved a series of issues that became a hot political topic. Among them: He promote expanded the use of surveillance cameras in hospital operating rooms after it was discovered that some doctors assigned staff without a license to practice surgery. He also led successful efforts to provide stimulus money to residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike his main rival, former chief prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol, Mr. Lee has voiced support for economic cooperation with North Korea. He is the only candidate who has promised a universal basic income plan that will ultimately deliver the least 1 million won (about $814) for all citizens per year.