Only female candidate in S. Korea presidential race

Ms Sim Sang Jeung at a campaign rally in Seoul on Saturday. She is a former labour activist who is the leftwing Justice Party's candidate and is up against 12 men in the presidential race.
Ms Sim Sang Jeung at a campaign rally in Seoul on Saturday. She is a former labour activist who is the leftwing Justice Party's candidate and is up against 12 men in the presidential race.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • When Park Geun Hye was elected South Korea's first female president five years ago, she secured the largest vote share of the country's democratic era. But after her term ended in impeachment and disgrace, only one of the 13 candidates to succeed her is a woman.

Analysts say the near all-male panel - epitomised by rows of campaign posters dominated by middle-aged men in dark suits - demonstrates the enduringly patriarchal nature of Korean society.

The only exception is Ms Sim Sang Jeung, a former labour activist who is the leftwing Justice Party's candidate.

Park - the daughter of the late strongman Park Chung Hee - was ousted from power in March over a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal centred on a secret confidante that prompted millions to take to the streets calling for her ouster.

She has been detained and is awaiting trial on charges including abuse of power and bribery. The public outrage unleashed a storm of sexist remarks online, such as: "Don't even dream about having a female president for the next 100 years."

Ms Sim condemns what she calls a sexual double standard, saying no one took issue with the gender of two previous presidents who were imprisoned in the 1990s for their part in crushing the Gwangju Uprising against the military-backed dictatorship.

 

Ms Sim, who is married with a son, has no chance of victory at the ballot box, with South Korea's leading pollsters both putting her in fourth place in the final surveys of the campaign, on 7.3 per cent according to Realmeter and 8 per cent for Gallup Korea, far behind Democratic Party front runner Moon Jae In.

But the 58-year-old who once worked as a seamstress scored well in debates and was the most vocal critic of Mr Hong Joon Pyo, the candidate of Park's conservative Liberty Korea Party, who is known as "Korea's Trump" for his outspoken rhetoric and sexist remarks and has been polling third. Mr Hong, 62, drew fire for saying "washing dishes is women's work" in an interview, and for bragging in his memoir about helping a college friend with an attempted date rape by drugging a woman.

Ms Sim targeted him repeatedly during a television debate until she forced out an apology.

She is pushing for measures to help working mothers faced with the double burdens of employment and household duties, dubbed "Superwoman Prevention Laws", and rules to make half the Cabinet women.

This is, after all, someone who earned the nickname "Iron Lady" while working as secretary-general of the Korean Metal Workers' Union.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Only female candidate in S. Korea presidential race'. Print Edition | Subscribe