The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Lee Jung-hyun opts for comeback in hometown

By Im Eun-byel

Published : May 24, 2022 - 14:24

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Candidate Lee Jung-hyun running for governor of South Jeolla Province speaks at an event held by People Power Party at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on May 6. (Yonhap) Candidate Lee Jung-hyun running for governor of South Jeolla Province speaks at an event held by People Power Party at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on May 6. (Yonhap)

Lee Jung-hyun, once a big name in the conservative bloc, is seeking a return to politics after a five-year hiatus, this time running for the governor of South Jeolla Province.

Lee, a former head of the main conservative party and a close aide of ousted former President Park Geun-hye, had left politics after Park’s impeachment in 2017.

Having left the central arena, Lee has returned to his political hometown.

“I wanted a fresh start, working my way upward,” Lee told The Korea Herald in an email interview.

“I will not be taking political sides, setting myself apart from the politics of the past. The motto of my new political life is to ‘catch all.’ It is the third way that embraces both the liberal and conservatives,” he said.

As a conservative People Power Party candidate running in the liberal-leaning southwest, the odds are not in his favor. Lee, however, has a track record of beating the odds, being a third-term lawmaker from Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.

“I want to end the regionalism of Korea,” he said, referring to how the political inclination of southern regions in Korea are traditionally split into two sides; southeastern Gyeongsang provinces support the conservative-leaning party and southwestern Jeolla provinces support the liberal-leaning party.

“The horrible political regionalism has been continuing for decades, resulting in national and social waste,” he said.

Lee was the first leader of the right-wing Saenuri Party from the country’s liberal-leaning southwestern Jeolla region.

“For a figure from the conservative party, I am relatively aware of the anger and sense of deprivation of the South Jeolla Province people. I empathize with the people about how the region has been discriminated against over the years, resulting in underdevelopment and isolation,” he said.

For development of the region, Lee proposed a “megacity” initiative that could create synergy for the southwestern region.

“The 22 administrative branches in the South Jeolla Province will be a one big megacity,” he said.

Lee said he plans to cooperate with global experts to bolster the regional industry, making the southwestern region the base of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

He is hoping to bring in autonomous, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicle productions, urban air mobility services, advanced medical care clusters, secondary battery clusters and more.

Lee’s rival is candidate Kim Young-rok from the Democratic Party of Korea, who running for reelection. Kim, a former minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs during the Moon Jae-in administration, was elected into the office in 2018 earning 77.8 percent of the votes.

“All of my past elections have been difficult,” Lee said, referring to the days when he ran for the lawmaker post representing Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. Lee, canvassing on a bicycle in the rain, made history by winning his first election in a region known to be a tough area for the conservative party.

“I always went forward with sincerity. I have both succeeded and failed. I am doing my best and hope that the voters will show a positive response,” he said.

By Im Eun-byel (