‘S Korea’s Bernie Sanders’ tops presidential election with talk of universal basic income

Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung speaks during an interview with Reuters in Suwon
Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung speaks during an interview with Reuters in Suwon
FILE PHOTO: Gyeonggi province governor Lee Jae-myung speaks during an interview with Reuters in Suwon, South Korea December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran

September 13, 2021

by Hynohei Shino

SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean politician who once said he aspired to be a “successful Bernie Sanders” has named Moon Jae-in as president after rising to prominence with an aggressive pandemic response and a populist economic agenda. Leading the field to transform.

Gyeonggi province governor Lee Jae-myung has led in several recent national elections and dominated the early rounds of the ruling liberal Democratic Party primary, including the latest polling over the weekend.

As governor, Lee advocated for a universal basic income and established a one-year cash payment to all 24-year-olds. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all province residents also received regular payments.

Under Lee, Gyeonggi took aggressive measures to combat the epidemic, banning gatherings later adopted by the national government, raiding a church at the center of a major outbreak, and implementing a controversial requirement that all Foreign residents should be tested.

His outlandish image was once seen as a liability to establishment contestants with close ties to the outgoing Moon.

But with many South Koreans disillusioned with slashing housing prices, a poor employment outlook for young people and corruption scandals, that populist message has pushed them to the head of the pack as they capitalize on voter discontent. Trying to blunt the efforts of conservatives. .

Lee no longer compares himself to Progressive Senator Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for US President, and expressed a desire to adjust his policies to avoid conflict while adopting “compromise and consensus”. Of.

But he still positions himself as someone who will take over the establishment – ​​which is largely his own party at the moment.

“Only politicians who have the courage and motivation to resist and react from the establishment can keep promises and keep them and get results,” Lee said during a primaries in the eastern province of Gangwon on Sunday. ” “And I’ve never made a promise I can’t keep.”

extension of welfare state

Born into a poor farming family in a remote mountain village in the country’s southeast, Lee, 56, turns his attention to economic equality to early life as a child laborer in chemical factories, which left him with poor hearing and Left with deformity of the wrist.

When elected mayor of Seongnam, one of Gyeonggi’s largest cities, in 2010, he began plans to establish a new, larger public hospital with an unprecedented number of negative pressure rooms and intensive care beds. The facility now serves as a national COVID-19 center and has treated over 3,000 patients.

“Protecting people from disasters and infectious diseases by providing public medical services is one of the most fundamental duties of the government, and my political career began there,” Lee told Reuters in December.

A longtime advocate of universal basic income, Lee vowed to provide 1 million Won ($850) to all citizens and $1 million to those aged 19-29 each year if he takes office.

He also promised to boost housing supply by constructing over 2.5 million homes, including 1 million to be distributed under the “Basic Ghar” scheme, which aims to provide non-homeowners access to high quality homes at affordable prices. To be allowed up to 30 stays in public accommodation. years.

To regulate the programs, Lee proposed a carbon tax and a national land tax scheme to raise taxes for all property holders and cut transaction costs.

“I will adopt universal basic income as a national policy to pave the way for a major transition from a low burden, low welfare state to a medium burden, medium welfare state,” he said at a press conference in late July. .

From Outsider to Frontrunner

Lee, who came third in the Democratic Party’s last presidential election in 2017, has been marred by personal controversies while in office, including allegations of an affair with an actress, which he has denied.

As proof of their alleged relationship, the actress said that the governor had a large mole on his body. In 2018, Lee publicly took an examination to refute that claim, with doctors concluding that he had no such marks.

A lawsuit by the actress seeking 300 million Won ($255,000) in compensation from Lee is pending in court.

Lee’s rise has been driven primarily by young and politically independent South Koreans, who led Moon to victory in 2017 but have since become disillusioned.

This year Lee has pulled in party bigwigs such as former prime minister Lee Nak-yeon, who was seen as a favorite of insiders in search of a credible candidate who could protect Moon’s political legacy.

Meanwhile, the Conservative opposition is still in disarray with it emerging as a strong contender.

Kim Hyung-joon, professor of political science at Myeongji University in Seoul, said, “Despite the efforts of mainstream Democrats, Lee’s experience and outward image satisfy the longing of many voters who crave a candidate who is “

($1 = 1,175.9000 won)

(Reporting by Hyonhei Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Lincoln Feast.)

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