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[Newsmaker] Gyeonggi’s push for relief funds fuels infighting

Democratic Party’s presidential hopefuls denounce Gov. Lee Jae-myung’s idea of handing out cash for all Gyeonggi residents

Rep. Chung Sye-kyun (left), Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Rep. Lee Nak-yon (right) greet each other ahead of the Democratic Party’s televised debate on July 28. (Yonhap)
Rep. Chung Sye-kyun (left), Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Rep. Lee Nak-yon (right) greet each other ahead of the Democratic Party’s televised debate on July 28. (Yonhap)
The clash among the ruling Democratic Party’s presidential contenders is gaining renewed steam, despite the candidates’ vow to work as “one team.”

The infighting resurged over Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung’s idea of providing cash handouts for all residents in the province, as it drew criticism from other presidential hopefuls.

He first mentioned the idea Sunday, saying that he is considering an option to give COVID-19 disaster relief funds to the 12 percent of Gyeonggi Province residents who were excluded from the central government’s cash handout plan.

“My belief is that (relief funds) should be given to all provincial residents,” Lee said in a press conference on Monday. “And local governments may do something differently from the central government.”

In order to help people damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, the National Assembly previously endorsed an extra budget of 34.9 trillion won ($30.3 billion) last month to provide relief packages to people in the bottom 88 percent income bracket.

Two other presidential hopefuls of the ruling Democratic Party -- former Prime Ministers Lee Nak-yon and Chung Sye-kyun -- denounced the Gyeonggi governor’s proposal.

“There must be a reason why the ruling and main opposition parties came together at the National Assembly to decide on (providing cash handouts for people in the bottom 88 percent income bracket),” Rep. Lee told reporters. 

He added that the Gyeonggi governor failed to consider other local governments that are trying to follow the National Assembly‘s decision in his proposal.

“I think Gov. Lee is making this decision because he has no experience in state affairs,” Rep. Chung said in a radio interview.

“He has never been in the National Assembly and he has not worked in the central government. He has only been a head of local governments.”

Chung also questioned how state affairs can be carried out if Gov. Lee chooses to go his own way, and does not respect decisions made by the central government, National Assembly and Cheong Wa Dae.

Gov. Lee’s proposal also drew heavy criticism from presidential candidate contenders in the main opposition People Power Party.

Former Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong went as far as to accuse Gov. Lee of “buying votes” with the taxes collected from Gyeonggi Province residents, describing it as a promise that Lee would dole out cash in exchange for being elected as president.

Former chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection Choi Jae-hyung also called it a populist measure and that he is “strategically using the governor’s power for his political purposes.”

Despite Lee’s confidence in carrying out the proposal, seven major cities that account for almost half of the 13 million population in Gyeonggi province expressed doubts against his plans.

The mayors of Suwon, Yongin, Seongnam, Hwaseong, Bucheon, Namyangju and Ansan said it was practically difficult to expand the scope of cash relief for all residents.

On the other hand, the cities of Goyang, Paju, Guri, Gwangmyeong and Anseong backed Gov. Lee’s idea, saying the province and cities should provide separate relief funds for the 12 percent of residents excluded from the central government’s cash handout plan.

The Gyeonggi governor has been widely tipped as the front-runner among the presidential hopefuls within the ruling Democratic Party.

According to a survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute, 27.4 percent of the respondents picked Gov. Lee as the most suitable candidate for president to lead all other Democratic Party rivals. Rep. Lee Nak-yon came in second, with 16 percent of the respondents siding with the former prime minister.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (
catch table
Korea Herald daum