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The favourite to become South Korea’s next president has made a play for the bald vote with promises of free hair loss treatment on the national health service if he wins power.

Lee Jae-Myung, the left-leaning candidate for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, made the pledge to expand national health insurance coverage to pay for regrowth treatments in a campaign statement this week.

The idea was first put forward by the party’s youth election committee and Mr Lee added it to his list of dozens of “small satisfaction” promises to the electorate.

Announcing the plan, Mr Lee said: “Please let us know what inconveniences you have experienced in hair-loss treatments and what we must reflect in our policies. I will present a perfect policy for hair-loss treatment”.

The online reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with members of the public with thinning hair promising Mr Lee their vote.

One post read: “I will ‘implant’ Lee in the [Presidential] Blue House”, in a reference to one popular treatment for baldness. 

At present, treatments for hair loss are not available under South Korea’s national health programme.

As a result, anyone who wants to treat thinning hair has to undergo expensive treatments in private clinics, while there is also a thriving market in imported medicines of questionable efficacy and safety.

Some estimates suggest that as many as 10 million of South Korea’s 52 million residents are experiencing some degree of baldness.

Not everyone is impressed with the proposal, however. Supporters of the rival, conservative People Power Party accused Mr Lee of making populist promises, with taxpayers ultimately covering the additional costs.

“Since hair loss is on the borderline between disease and beauty, there is a high likelihood that this could in the future be expanded to treatments for skin complaints, false teeth, wigs and cosmetic surgery”, the conservative Munhwa Ilbo newspaper wrote in an editorial. 

Mr Lee is ahead of his main challenger, Yoon Suk-yeol, by 8 percentage points in the most recent public opinion poll, published on Thursday. Neither candidate is bald.

The campaign, ahead of an election in March, has already been marred by accusations of bribery, plagiarism, illegal gambling and other irregularities against both candidates, as well as members of their families.

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