Financial TimesFinancial Times

South Korea’s raucous politics: presidential election defined by mudslinging and scandal

By Christian Davies

03 Mar 2022 · 10 min read

s a provincial governor and former mayor of a medium-sized city with no parliamentary or cabinet-level experience, Lee Jae-myung was very much an outside bet to be South Korea’s next president. Then three higher profile rivals to be the ruling leftwing Democratic party candidate all dropped out: one was sent to prison for sexual assault, another died in an apparent suicide after being accused by his staff of sexual harassment, and a third is serving a prison sentence for election tampering.

That opened the way for Lee, a scrappy former factory worker who, in a nod to the veteran leftwing US politician, describes his ambition to be a “successful Bernie Sanders”. He is one of two men left standing in a presidential election race that has proved divisive and disreputable even by the carnivalesque standards of South Korea’s 35-year-old democracy.

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