Ruling party lawmaker tries to shake off ‘elitist’ image

  • Published : Oct 4, 2011 - 21:03
  • Updated : Oct 4, 2011 - 21:03

Seoul-born, SNU law
graduate, former judge and No. 2 female figure in GNP faces formidable challenge from unified liberal front

GNP candidate for Seoul mayor Na Kyung-won, 47, is one of the most well-known female figures not only in the conservative bloc but in politics generally.

Born in Seoul in 1963 to an affluent school board chairman, Na has sailed smoothly through her academic and political career.

Having entered Seoul National University’s law department in 1986, she passed the state bar exam in 1992 and took office as a judge in the Busan and Incheon District Courts. She received doctor’s and master’s degrees in law from SNU Graduate School.

She was also said to have scored outstanding grades during her years in the Judicial and Research Training Institute, at which she rivaled Rep. Won Hee-ryeong.

Second seat

In 2002, she entered the political arena as former Grand National Party’s chairman Lee Hoi-chang’s policy assistant, but returned to work as a lawyer after Lee’s defeat to Roh Moo-hyun in the 2002 presidential race.

Na, however, soon made her way into the National Assembly as the GNP’s proportional representative in the 17th general election in 2004. She was reelected as a second-term lawmaker in 2008 in Jung-gu, one of the most highly competitive constituencies in Seoul.

She thus became the second female judge-turned-lawmaker, following the steps of Rep. Choo Mi-ae of the main opposition Democratic Party, and also the No. 2 female figure in the GNP next to former chairwoman Rep. Park Geun-hye.

During those two parliamentary terms, Na built a reputation within the party as a promising young conservative lawmaker.

Her refined speech and appearance, which stood out while she worked as the party’s spokesperson, also added to her popularity among the public.

In 2009, she attracted public attention by appearing in a fashion magazine pictorial as one of the top female leaders in Korean society.

In 2010, she became one of the youngest, and the only female member of the party’s Supreme Council.

Though she and other members stepped down en masse in April this year, taking responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat in the by-elections, she soon was voted back onto the committee by taking third place in an internal race.

In last year’s June by-elections, despite losing the party’s mayoral nomination to former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, Na proved her influence by winning a considerable number of votes.

Pro-Lee faction

Na has largely been classified as a core pro-Lee Myung-bak figure within the party, especially as she was spokesperson of the Lee camp during the 2007 presidential election.

In 2008-2009, working as the party’s chief negotiator in the parliamentary culture committee, Na contributed considerably to the approval of the media bills, one of the key projects promoted by the Lee government.

Though she faced scathing criticism from liberal civic groups regarding the issue, she cemented her image as an aggressive conservative and pro-government figure.

She has also been repeatedly rumored to be a potential culture minister nominee in cabinet reshuffles over the past years.

Despite her career successes, she is also known for the challenges she faces as a parent of a daughter with Down Syndrome. As soon as she joined parliament, Na established a research center for handicapped children’s welfare.

Na was mentioned as a strong candidate for Seoul mayor even before Oh stepped down this August.

Though she was temporarily challenged by Rep. Kim Choong-whan and independent candidate Lee Seog-yeon, Na secured the party ticket, as Kim and Lee withdrew their bids. She will compete in the upcoming Oct. 26 by-election against Park Won-soon, who was elected Monday as the liberal bloc’s candidate.

Na’s greatest strength as a lawmaker and mayoral candidate is her consistent popular appeal.

Not only has she kept posted high public approval ratings, but her Twitter account is also one of the most frequently visited among conservative politicians.

The candidate, however, has to overcome her image as an affluent member of the elite to secure support from different social and economic brackets.

Na, as of March, was ranked as one of the most affluent lawmakers in the GNP, with total assets amounting to 4 billion won ($3.4 million), including 2 billion won in cash accounts and 1.8 billion won worth of real estate.
Na Kyung-won, the Grand National Party’s nominee for the Seoul mayoral by-election, visits a daycare center in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yang Dong-chul/The Korea Herald)

‘Ordinary wife, mom’

In response to the public’s ill feelings towards her background, Na called herself an “ordinary wife and mother of two children” when she officially announced her candidacy last month.

She also backtracked on her former stance on welfare policies and met the public by visiting traditional markets and welfare facilities.

Na previously opposed the liberal camp’s welfare plans, referring to them as “welfare populism,” in support of Oh’s position.

During one of her recent election campaigns, Na also faced criticism for exposing the body of a handicapped child to press cameras while bathing him.

Na’s own experience with her daughter, however, greatly alleviated the backlash.

“Nobody in the parliament has agonized over the handicapped children’s welfare issue as much as I have,” said Na in a radio interview, following the controversy.

“I shall take care of Seoul City’s issues from a motherly perspective.”

Na’s place in the race, however, has been shaken by the rise of liberal candidate Park Won-soon, who is leading in most public polls.

Na Kyung-won

● Age: 47

● Birthplace: Seoul

● Education:

- Doctorate in law from Seoul National University

- Graduated from Department of Law, Seoul National University

● Family: Husband (Kim Jae-ho, judge), one son and one daughter

● Career:

- Member of the Supreme Council of the Grand National Party

- Lawmaker elected to the 17th and 18th National Assemblies

- Special aide to then presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang in 2002

- Judge in Seoul Administrative Court

● Positions on issues:

- Opposes free school meals without consideration of income level.

- Will reconsider the Han River Renaissance development project, pushed by former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon.

- Seeks to continue renovation of the Yanghwa Bridge over the Han River to enable large ships to pass under it.

● Personal wealth: About 4 billion won

By Bae Hyun-jung (