Two NK defectors win parliamentary seats with conservative party
Editor Eddie Kim
<Breaknews Auatralia=Eddie Kim>
The 21st National Assembly will have two members originally from North Korea who have been vocal about their native country‘s dictatorship and human rights abuses.
One of them is Thae Ku-min, better known here by his North Korean name Thae Yong-ho, who became the first defector to be directly elected to South Korea’s unicameral parliament.
Running on the ticket of the conservative opposition United Future Party, the former North Korean diplomat who settled down here four years ago garnered 58.4 percent of votes in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam constituency.
“South Korea is my homeland and Gangnam is my hometown,” a teary Thae said after his victory became certain in the early hours of Thursday. “In 70 years of separation, no North Korean was elected in a constituency seat. I think this is the first step to reconciliation and harmony between the people of two Koreas, and to unification.”
Known for expensive houses and luxury apartment complexes, the Gangnam area has voted reliably conservative, and has not elected a candidate from the liberal faction since 2000.
Rivals questioned the refugee-turned-candidate’s credentials, saying said he lacks the connections and experience of liberal democracy, as well as of the district, which is home to the country’s richest and trendiest and where issues on real estate and the economy run high.
Yet Thae appealed to voters by pledging to undo “excessive taxation,” capitalizing on residents’ anger at the current President Moon Jae-in’s real estate policy targeting owners of expensive homes and of multiple homes.
Thae, 57, was the deputy ambassador of the North Korean Embassy in London when he defected to South Korea with his wife and two sons in 2016 in search of freedom. He is one of the most senior North Korean diplomats to defect to date.
Since his defection, Thae has heavily criticized North Korea’s authoritative regime under Kim Jong-un, as well as President Moon Jae-in’s engagement policy with Pyongyang.
When he decided to run for a parliamentary seat in February, he said his victory could bring the two Koreas closer to unification, and could send positive signals about democracy to the upper echelon of North Korea, of which he was part.
If his election win is confirmed, he will be the first North Korean defector to score victory in a constituency election. Previously, Cho Myung-chul, a former professor at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University, was a member of the National Assembly from 2012 to 2016, though through proportional representation.
Meanwhile, human rights activist Ji Seong-ho also won a seat through proportional representation of the United Future Party.