Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung announced his bid to run in the presidential election. Back in 2017 as the then mayor of Seongnam, Lee flexed his political muscle by entering the Democratic Party’s primary and being ranked in the third, and now he has returned with a bigger presence to run for the highest office for the second time.
“We’ve got to usher in a world where all can live well together by curbing the vanity of the strong who often resort to privilege and foul play while taking care of the weaker,” Lee said in his video speech released from his social posting. Diagnosing disparity and bi-polarization as the cause of the crisis South Korea is currently faced with, Lee vowed to embark on a plan for strong economic revitalization, reflecting his will to pursue a further “government-led” policy.
Lee’s current political presence is a far cry from four years back when he humbly styled himself as “the flea” or “the carpetbagger.” In fact, scores of lawmakers have already endorsed him, and the rumors over the postponement of the primary have blown over as well. He is also the head of Gyeonggi, one of the biggest provinces of the country with a population of 13 million. Now is the time when he showed the sense of dignity and balance befitting the head of a country, instead of depicting himself as an “anti-mainstream maverick.” It also needs to be clarified if he will finish the race while staying in office as Gyeonggi governor, and its legitimacy should be also explained.
In preparation of the upcoming vote, Lee appears to be refraining from making judgment about the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy directions. He might be thinking about crossing the “River of Primary” first without antagonizing the pro-Moon lawmakers. Many forecast that once Lee is elected as the ruling party’s presidential candidate, he will take a strategy of differentiating himself with Mr. Moon. But the right thing to do would be to start sharing his honest opinion from the primary campaign about the controversies surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Guk or the real estate policies from the Moon administration.
A recording of Lee cursing his sister-in-law remains his weakest point. On Thursday, he admitted to making abusive remarks and apologized for his misstep, but an additional test is needed as emotional stability is essential for the leader of a nation. His straightforward speech style and sense of enterprise were the very reasons why he built his reputation nationwide while serving as mayor and governor. But running a nation is entirely different.
He must explain how he will finance his plan for boosting basic income, a pledge considered as populist even by other candidates from his party if he were to win the heart of rational voters. Even from inside the ruling party, they say Lee’s biggest enemy is himself. For Lee Jae-myung to succeed in the elections, the name of the game should be to dispel the concern over his populist streak.