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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 9)

All News 06:56 May 09, 2022

Wrong candidacy
: Lee seeks to shield himself from corruption charges

Lee Jae-myung, former presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), has touched off controversy with his bid to run in the June 1 parliamentary by-election. On Saturday, he declared his candidacy for a National Assembly seat representing Gyeyang-B district in Incheon, west of Seoul. His move came a day after the DPK selected him as the candidate.

It is rare for an unsuccessful presidential candidate to run in a parliamentary or local election shortly after his or her defeat. Lee lost the March 9 presidential poll to Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). He should have gone through a longer period of self-reflection, taking responsibility for the election defeat. It is disappointing to see him seeking an Assembly seat less than two months after his unsuccessful presidential bid.

He and his party have broken the custom in which previous presidential candidates distanced themselves from politics for a long period of time ― usually for more than a year ― after losing an election. Making a quicker comeback has been unheard-of in Korea. Thus most voters cannot but question the true intention of Lee's candidacy for the by-election.

Lee has defended his bid for the Assembly seat by saying that he should devote himself to helping his party ride out difficulties in the local elections and parliamentary by-elections after his defeat in the presidential poll. The DPK also said it nominated Lee to run in the Incheon district to produce successful results in the upcoming elections. It has also decided to appoint him as a standing chairperson to lead its election campaign committee.

However, the PPP has argued that Lee is vying to become a lawmaker in order to get immunity from arrest for possible criminal charges. The prosecution and police are investigating him over allegations that he was implicated in a corruption scandal surrounding a lucrative apartment construction project in Seongnam City, south of Seoul. Lee was dogged by the allegations during the presidential campaign because he was responsible for the project as mayor of the city.

Police are also investigating Lee as a criminal suspect over allegations that he had let his wife use corporate credit cards of the Gyeonggi provincial government for private purchases while serving as governor. Additionally, last week, police raided Seongnam City Hall over allegations that Lee, then the city's mayor, collected 16 billion won ($12.6 million) in donations for the municipal football club, Seongnam FC, from major companies such as Doosan and Naver in return for business favors.

Under these circumstances, it is absurd for Lee to run for a parliamentary seat although he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. More dumbfounding is that he and his party are doing all they can to shield him from possible criminal charges. It is also nonsense for Lee to run in Incheon, where he has no political connection, instead of his power base ― Seongnam's Bundang district.

Certainly, he stands little chance of winning in Bundang because of the corruption allegations raised against him. But he seems to believe that he can win in Incheon's Gyeyang, which is a traditional DPK stronghold. The DPK is also trying to play a dirty game following the backlash against its passage of two controversial bills aimed at removing the prosecution's investigative powers ― a move that makes it more difficult for it to investigate allegations of corruption and the abuse of power raised against the outgoing Moon administration. Voters should make their judgment on Lee and his party for their attempt to undermine the rule of law and democracy.

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