Mon, May 08, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Male candidates dominate S Korean election


A woman walks past campaign posters for South Korean presidential candidates in a residential neighborhood in Seoul on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

When former South Korean president Park Geun-hye was elected the country’s first female president five years ago, she won the largest-ever vote share of the country’s democratic era.

However, 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 — epitomized by rows of campaign posters dominated by middle-aged men in dark suits — demonstrates the enduring patriarchal nature of South Korean society.

The only exception is Sim Sang-jeung, a former labor activist who is the left-wing Justice Party’s candidate.

Park — the daughter of the late South Korean president Park Chung-hee — was in March ousted from power over a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal centered on a secret female confidante that prompted millions to take to the streets calling for her ouster.

She is detained and awaiting trial for charges, including abuse of power and bribery, and 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.”

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

“We had two other ex-presidents jailed for slaughtering countless citizens who were protesting against army rule, but not a single person said: ‘No more male presidents,’” she said in a campaign speech.

Park is a conservative who did little for women’s rights while in office and female politicians struggling with the glass ceiling say her humiliating downfall has done nothing to help.

“I’ve seen recently many male voters, or even male politicians, saying: ‘This is why women should never be in politics,’” said Han Jeoung-ae, a two-term lawmaker with the center-left Democratic Party.

“We have no shortage of male politicians brought down by corruption and other crimes, but no one ever frames it as the failure of entire male politicians like they do over women,” she told reporters.

Female politicians are still a relative rarity in South Korea, accounting for only 17 percent of parliamentary representatives, ranking it 30th among the 35 nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That is an advance on the 6 percent of 2000, but it is still “extremely hard” for female politicians to secure electoral nominations, said Nam In-soon, a Democratic lawmaker, who is pushing for parties to be legally obliged to select women as at least 30 percent of their candidates.

“We have made some progress over the years, but most internal networking within a political party’s leadership is still based on the good old boys’ club,” she said. “We still have this hard, thick glass ceiling all over our head.”

Park rose to power largely due to the popularity of her father, who remains widely revered by older voters who benefited from rapid growth under his 1961-1979 iron-fisted rule.

South Korea remains a deeply conservative society in many respects and, along with Japan, is seen as one of the worst places for working women among economically advanced nations.

The two Asian neighbors were this year ranked at the bottom of the Economist’s glass ceiling index, which measures gender equality at work among 29 advanced nations.

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