South Korea Prime Minister Chung Resigns in Bid For Presidency

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South Korea’s prime minister resigned his post to prepare for a run in next year’s presidential race, facing a battle to win voters upset over runaway real estate prices and lacking confidence in government-proposed fixes.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who has served in the post under President Moon Jae-in since January 2020, said Friday he was stepping down. The move puts him on a track to be a candidate in Moon’s progressive Democratic Party to replace the president when his single, five-year term ends in about a year.

“As the prime minister of the Moon Jae-in administration, I tried my best to realize the spirit of inclusiveness and fairness,” Chung said. “But we still have long way to go.”

Chung has a challenging task of embracing progressive policies that appeal to the base and attract voters disenchanted with Moon, whose support rate hit a record low 30% in a weekly tracking poll released Friday by Gallup Korea. There are two other likely contenders for the party race -- Lee Nak-yon, another former prime minister, and Lee Jae-myung, the governor of the country’s most populous province -- and none has emerged as a clear front-runner.

Last week, Moon’s party was handed its worst defeat in five years in mayoral elections in South Korea’s two biggest cities of Seoul and Busan. It was a worrisome sign for his progressive camp ahead of the presidential election in 11 months, and a boost for conservatives looking to take back the top office.

Surveys show many in the public feel Moon hasn’t done enough to erase income inequality gaps that rank among the highest in the developed world. Apartment prices in Seoul have doubled in the last five years, while salaries have been unable to keep pace, leaving housing in the capital out of reach for many people and some of it in the hands of a speculative few.

Chung has helped guide South Korea’s policy to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including its lauded coronavirus containment strategy and social distancing measures.

Moon nominated former interior minister Kim Boo-kyum as his new prime minister, according to the presidential office. Moon also replaced five other ministers.

Chung is considered a moderate in economic and diplomatic policies within Moon’s progressive bloc. During an interview with Bloomberg in February, Chung warned that a universal basic income was “impossible” to implement, drawing a sharp contrast with other populist contenders for the presidency.

Born in 1950, the year the Korean War broke out, Chung grew up in poverty, and worked for a major company before joining the political ranks.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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