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(LEAD) Gyeonggi Gov. Lee named presidential candidate for ruling party amid swirling corruption scandal

All News 18:15 October 10, 2021

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By Park Bo-ram

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung won the ruling Democratic Party's nomination for president Sunday, a widely expected victory for a man championing universal basic income and other sweeping welfare programs amid concern a deepening corruption scandal involving a close aide could dog him through the race.

The 56-year-old human rights lawyer-turned-politician won 50.29 percent of all votes cast in the course of the party's 11-round primary since early last month, followed by former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon with 39.14 percent.

Ex-Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae won 9.01 percent and two-term lawmaker Park Yong-jin won 1.55 percent.

This image, provided by the National Assembly press corps, shows Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung making thumbs-up signs in the air after winning the regional primary vote in Incheon on Oct. 3, 2021. (Yonhap)

Lee held a comfortable lead throughout the primary even as the corruption scandal surrounding a 2015 land development project in Seongnam, south of Seoul, he pushed for when he was Seongnam's mayor threatened to engulf him.

He eventually secured a majority of the votes needed to avoid a runoff.

In the March 9 presidential vote, Lee is expected to be pitted against either former Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl or five-term lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo, the leading candidates in the main opposition People Power Party's presidential primary.

The scandal remains a source of a potential political firestorm for Lee's presidential run.

It centers on revelations that a previously unheard-of asset management firm, Hwacheon Daeyu, and its seven affiliates reaped profits of more than 1,000 times their investments after the firm was selected as a civilian partner for the 2015 project.

One of Lee's associates has been arrested on charges of playing key roles in the selection process as well as designing the profit distribution arrangements in a way that benefits the firm while inflicting losses on the city.

The main opposition party has accused Lee of masterminding the whole scheme, and called for an independent counsel investigation into the scandal while urging Lee to step down as presidential candidate.

This photo, provided by the National Assembly press corps, shows Lee Jun-seok, chairman of the People Power Party, on a protest march at the National Assembly on Oct. 6, 2021, calling for a special counsel probe into a development corruption scandal. (Yonhap)

Lee has categorically rejected all allegations as "fake news," including his relationship with Yoo, arguing that he gained not a single penny from the project and that the opposition party is raising allegations against him in an attempt to cover up its own wrongdoing.

Despite the scandal, Lee has led opposition candidates in opinion polls.

According to a joint survey by four pollsters published this week, Lee had 26 percent of support. Following him were PPP candidates Yoon and Hong with 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively. In a hypothetical two-way race between Lee and Yoon, Lee had 44 percent of support against Yoon's 33 percent.

This file image, provided by the National Assembly press corps, shows ex-Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (L) and Rep. Hong Joon-pyo during a television debate among presidential contenders of the People Power Party, held in Seoul on Sept. 8, 2021. (Yonhap)

The upcoming election is also seen as a referendum both on the five-year reign of liberal President Moon Jae-in and his ruling party amid widespread voter frustrations with runaway housing prices, considered the biggest policy failure of the Moon government.

Lee has pledged to sharply increase home supply to provide more than 2.5 million housing units during the five-year presidential term if he is elected, an ambitious goal that critics say is unrealistic.

Lee has been best known for his calls for universal basic income and other welfare measures. He pledged to give up to 1 million won (US$838.30) to each citizen and an additional 1 million won to every young adult per year, if elected.

Lee has pledged to mostly inherit President Moon Jae-in's foreign policy, saying he would play a more active role in brokering a deal between the United States and North Korea. He said he would meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to resolve the problem.

Lee said the U.S. is South Korea's "only ally" and pledged to further strengthen relations between the two countries. Still, he also said he would bolster ties with China, arguing there is no reason for South Korea to "narrow the room for maneuver" by taking sides between the U.S. and China.

On Japan, he said he would seek a two-track strategy of dealing with history and other issues separately.

Lee is projected to resign from his Gyeonggi governorship as early as late October to commit himself entirely to presidential campaigning ahead of the opposition nomination.

This image, provided by the National Assembly press corps, shows (from L) Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, ex-Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, Rep. Park Yong-jin and ex-Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae during a primary event by the Democratic Party in Incheon on Oct. 3, 2021. (Yonhap)


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