Former two-term lawmaker Lee Hye-hoon seems determined to fight an uphill battle against two heavyweight figures to be nominated the ruling Saenuri Party’s candidate for Seoul mayor in the June local elections.
A series of opinion polls have shown that she is a distant third in a three-way race against Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a seven-term legislator and owner of the world’s largest shipbuilder, and former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik. Lee still believes she has a chance of coming from behind to defeat them and challenge incumbent mayor Park Won-soon, who is backed by the liberal opposition bloc.
What makes her stand out despite being regarded as a long shot is that the former lawmaker is the only woman who has so far announced a bid to lead one of Korea’s metropolitan and provincial governments this year. If she achieves her goal against the odds, Lee would be the first woman to be elected chief of a province or major city.
In the five local elections since 1995, no woman has been selected to head any of the 17 metropolitan and provincial administrations. In the latest election in 2010, only six of the 228 candidates elected chiefs of smaller cities, counties and wards were women.
In recent years, Korea has experienced a rise in the proportion of women among teachers, lawyers, medical doctors and senior officials at central government agencies. But the female presence in politics and corporate boardrooms has remained low, suggesting there are still glass ceilings that have yet to be cracked.
Though President Park Geun-hye was elected the nation’s first female leader in the 2012 election, women account for only 15.7 percent of the current 300-member National Assembly.
This low figure, however, is quite high compared to the negligible female representation at the regional level. This phenomenon shows that male-dominated culture remains stronger in provincial politics and governance.
Major political parties need to step up efforts to field more female contenders in local polls, making it obligatory to fill a certain proportion of their candidate list with women.
Last weekend in Seoul, thousands of civic group members took to the streets to call for equal rights and roles for women in time for International Women’s Day. Regretful to say, it seems that they still have a long way to go.