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South Korea’s Opposition Leader Survives Stabbing

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South Korea’s Opposition Leader Survives Stabbing

Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party, was attacked during a tour of Busan.

South Korea’s Opposition Leader Survives Stabbing

Lee Jae-myung during his time as Gyeonggi province governor, Feb. 3, 2021

Credit: Gyeonggi Province News Portal

South Korea’s opposition leader and former presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung was stabbed on the morning of January 2 during a visit to Busan. 

The attacker reportedly approached Lee to ask for an autograph before pulling out a knife and stabbing Lee in the neck. The attacker was immediately subdued and arrested; police declined to give a name but identified him as a 67-year-old man. 

Lee was rushed to a hospital in Busan, then airlifted to Seoul National University Hospital for further treatment. According to a party spokesman, he is recovering in an intensive care unit after the attack damaged his jugular vein.

As of this writing, no information has been released on the attacker’s motives, although the police reported that the man’s intent was to kill Lee. 

Lee is the head of the Democratic Party and was its candidate in the 2022 presidential race. He lost to Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party by just 0.7 percentage points. Since then, he has remained in the spotlight, both due to his outspoken criticisms of the Yoon government – including a high-profile hunger strike to protest Yoon’s policies – and due to ongoing investigations into alleged corruption during Lee’s time as mayor of Seongnam. 

In September, the National Assembly, which is controlled by Lee’s Democratic Party, voted to lift his immunity to arrest, although a court later denied an arrest warrant. Lee has maintained that the investigation is politically motivated and accused Yoon, a former prosecutor, of threatening South Korea’s democracy by relentlessly pushing for the investigation of the country’s lead opposition figure.

Lee is considered the favorite to represent the Democratic Party as a presidential candidate again in 2027.

Yoon’s office said the president was deeply concerned about Lee’s health and had ordered police to thoroughly investigate the attack. Yoon condemned the stabbing, saying political violence would never be tolerated.

Lee worked in a factory in his teenage years, before winning entrance to university to study law. He made a name for himself as a human rights lawyer during South Korea’s push for democratization. After several unsuccessful legislatures races, in 2010 Lee was elected mayor of Seongnam. He then held office as governor of Gyeonggi, South Korea’s most populous province, from 2018 to 2021, before making his bid for the presidency. Since June 2022, he has served as a legislator in South Korea’s National Assembly.

At the time of the attack, Lee was speaking with reporters after visiting the construction site for a new airport in Busan. The city has become a hub for campaign activity, with the Democratic Party sensing an opening after the Yoon government’s failed bid to bring the 2030 World Expo to Busan. South Korea will hold National Assembly elections in April, with the Democratic Party favored to retain its majority.