“Progressive ex-judge challenges opposition bigwig in Dongjak B,” published in The Korea Times on March 25, 2020
Rep. Na Kyung-won of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), predecessor of the United Future Party, raised a crowbar in the air in a crowded room at the National Assembly building in April 2019.
She told her colleagues sitting on the floor that it was one of the tools members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) had used to try to force open the door to the room she and her fellow LKP legislators were occupying.
Na, who was floor leader of the LKP then, was one of the leaders of the opposition’s year-long occupation-style filibuster that delayed the passage of the ruling DPK’s electoral reform bill until late December. Her aggressive tactics and speaking style have led her to be one of the most controversial legislators in Korea and put a target on her back in the 2020 general election.
Now the DPK wants to pry her seat in south-central Seoul out of her hands with the force of the vote. Dongjak B is one of Korea’s most fiercely contested battleground districts.
Na, a former judge, has controlled Dongjak B district’s seat since 2014 and, before that, was elected to the National Assembly twice. In December 2018, she was selected by the LKP as floor leader, the first female floor leader in the party’s 25-year history.
The seat, which is just south of the Han River and includes Sadang Station, five stops away from Gangnam, where lines 2 and 4 interchange, has been in conservative hands since 2008. It is a splash of red in a sea of blue. In the 2016 general election, Na won by a comfortable 12 point margin.
The DPK specifically targeted Na’s seat with the strategic nomination of former judge Lee Soo-jin. Since 2002, she has been a judge in jurisdictions in Seoul and Incheon. In December, she resigned her position to join the DPK. In a recent speech, she called the upcoming April 15 general election “the whole country’s election to catch Na Kyung-won.”
While many judges enter politics through Cabinet posts ― frequently as the minister of justice ― it is less common, but not unprecedented, for judges to jump directly into an electoral contest as their first step.
Lee has been known as a progressive, having been a member of the International Human Rights Law Association and in 2018 having accused conservative former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae of corrupting the court for former President Park Geun-hye’s benefit. (Yang was later indicted on charges of abusing power stemming from the Park scandal.)
While the DPK suggested Lee was a “victim” who faced “personal disfavor” due to her politics, she was not among those included on the list of mostly progressive judges blacklisted by Yang that was submitted as evidence at his trial.
Na says she will “firmly fight” those trying to end her political career. She has attacked what she calls the efforts of those outside her district to unseat her and slammed the media as biased.
It is true, the DPK is putting a lot of effort into contesting her seat, and progressive netizens across the country are cheering Lee on. They are still outraged by the tactics of the LKP boycotting votes and occupying various rooms of the Assembly throughout 2019. The LKP even once barricaded a legislator in his office to prevent him from voting on the electoral reform bill.
The bill, which would increase representation of minor parties by using an interlocking proportional representation system, was fiercely opposed by the LKP.
Na has also spit fire at the DPK, calling its supporters “Moon’s whores” at a public rally and calling Moon “Kim Jong-un’s top spokesman” quoting a foreign press report in a parliamentary speech.
Polls show Lee leading, although the margins range from 2.8 points in one poll to 12 points in another. Whatever the numbers, neither side is going to give up without a fight. The metaphorical hammers and screw drivers are out and only one of them is going to be occupying the Assembly when this is over.