On the 5th, Saenuri Party candidate Choi Hong Jae, a 1st generation fighter for North Korean human rights, threw down the gauntlet to Democratic United Party lawmaker Lee Mikyung (62), who is strongly against the North Korea Human Rights Act. Choi and Lee will now go head to head in a north Seoul constituency this April.
Choi is a 486 activist, someone who has led both South Korea’s development and the fight to improve North Korean human rights. With the KORUS FTA, North Korean human rights and defector problems all slated for discussion, there is likely to be heated debate.
Choi, who was once Korea University student council president and closely involved with reunification issues for the National University Council, certainly seems qualified for public office. In addition, after finding out that millions of North Koreans were starving to death in the mid 1990s, he also cast aside his long-held pro-North Korea views and entered the world of human rights, marking him down as a flexible thinker.
“To me, our North Korean brothers’ human rights situation is a cross I cannot escape bearing,” he said in announcing his candidacy, making it clear that he won’t be letting the issue rest if he gets into the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, Lee, a 4-term incumbent and member of the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee, believes that the North Korean Human Rights Act would, if passed, lead to more strained inter-Korea relations. Her stance has earned the ire of a number of human rights groups in South Korea.
Lee also initially pushed for the annulment of the KORUS FTA, before taking note of public opinion and requesting renegotiation instead.
According to Choi, “Lee promoted the FTA when she was in the governing party, and now she calls for renegotiation! We cannot trust Eunpyeong (the ward in question) to this lawmaker.”
Unfortunately for Choi, the Saenuri party has categorized Eunpyeong as a very hard ward, or “gap”, to win, given Lee’s longevity and standing within the Democratic United Party. However, Choi said he remains bullish, saying, “Local public opinion is not always predictable. I have heard many complaints about Lee in this district.”