NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Seongnam mayor touts blue-collar background

By KH디지털2
  • Published : Jan 23, 2017 - 15:55
  • Updated : Jan 23, 2017 - 18:36
In a move to distinguish himself from key rivals in the upcoming presidential race, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea chose to highlight his past as a blue-collar worker from a low-income family.

Emphasizing his humble background is apparently intended to add weight to his pledge to promote workers’ rights, achieve economic equity, break up conglomerates and ultimately establish an incorruptible state leadership.

“It is my lifetime vision to create a just society, in which all are equal before the law, regardless of their wealth and power,” Lee said Monday, upon confirming his bid in the next presidential election.

Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)

“I hereby give you my word that in the Lee Jae-myung administration, there will be no pardon for Park Geun-hye or Lee Jae-yong.”

He referred to the president who is currently undergoing an impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court, which may lead to an earlier-than-scheduled presidential election, and the chief of the nation‘s largest conglomerate Samsung Group who recently avoiding arrest over his alleged involvement in state bribery.

The progressive mayor’s choice of location for his big announcement was a watch factory in Seongnam, where he had worked as a child during his family’s hardest times.

“This was the workplace of an impoverished 12-year-old boy who had to make his way to a factory every day, instead of going to school like his peers,” he said.

“It was the pain, grief and hope of that little boy that put me here today to announce my candidacy for South Korea’s 19th presidency.”

The second-term Seongnam mayor, who has largely been celebrated for greatly improving the city’s finances, placed focus on his economic blueprint.

“I shall carry out a Lee Jae-myung-style New Deal Policy so as to reinstate a fair market order, raise wages and expand jobs, promote welfare and increase household incomes,” he said.

Under Lee‘s rule, the city’s total debts fell from 655.2 billion won ($562 million) in 2010 to 96.8 billion won as of the end of last year.

He is also widely known for an extensive welfare program that includes a special youth subsidy and free postnatal care.

“But in order to achieve a fair economy, it is crucial to break down conglomerates that have been monopolizing power, violating laws and abusing workers,” Lee said.

His stern stance on conglomerates clearly marked him apart not only from conservative figures, but also from his in-party rivals, including former party chairman Moon Jae-in and South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung.

Moon and An, both former aides to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, are deemed political elites with relatively centrist views when it comes to economic agendas.

Lee has long been known for his straightforward remarks and bold actions, but it was during the candlelight rallies late last year that he rose in the public’s eye as a presidential potential.

His outspoken censure against the scandal-ridden president and radical calls for political change gained him popularity among those infuriated by the unprecedented high-profile corruption scandal.

According to a survey conducted by local pollster Realmeter last week, Lee stood third among potential presidential hopefuls, with 10.2 percent in support. The opposition front-runner Moon had 29.1 percent, while conservative hopeful Ban Ki-moon remained at 19.8 percent.

The mayor’s greatest challenge is likely to be his competition against Moon in a primary, before facing the actual presidential campaign.

Despite currently lagging in polls, however, Lee remained in high spirits.

“Those with vested rights or those who join hands with them will never think of challenging high powers,” Lee said.

“But without such challenges, it will forever be impossible to rid of old evils and create a new, just society.”

He then vowed to become the first noncorrupt president in the nation’s history, alluding not only to President Park, but her conservative predecessors.

“Since I became mayor, I even had to fight against my elder brother so as to block his attempted interference in municipal affairs,” Lee said.

“I have so struggled against corruption, endured pain for the sake of integrity and now deem myself qualified to fight against irregularities.”

With Park facing removal from office over the influence-peddling scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, it is likely the next presidential election will take place earlier than scheduled, possibly within the first half of the year, should the Constitutional Court confirm her ouster.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)