[Exclusive] First lady Kim Jung-sook vows to act as communication channel

By Bak Se-hwan

‘I will be just myself, close to ordinary citizens,' Kim says in interview

  • Published : May 10, 2017 - 15:29
  • Updated : May 11, 2017 - 14:02

With Moon Jae-in’s victory Tuesday night, Kim Jung-sook, 62, became Korea’s new first lady.

Kim and Moon were college sweethearts at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. The first couple’s love story has captivated the people, although theirs was not an easy romance.

President-elect Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook enter the National Assembly to attend the inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)

Moon, then a pro-democracy student activist, was detained several times for leading protests against the Park Chung-hee regime, and later was forcibly enlisted in the elite special forces by authorities.

Kim was by Moon’s side when he sat for the bar exam while serving time in prison for protesting against the Chun Doo-hwan regime, became a human rights lawyer and embarked on a political career after the death in 2009 of his close ally, President Roh Moo-hyun.

During this year’s short but intense 60-day presidential campaign, Kim was widely credited with having boosted support for Moon among undecided voters in Gwangju and the North and South Jeolla provinces, also known as Honam. There, she earned the nickname “jolly lady” for her likable and easy-to-talk-to personality.

Perhaps thanks in party to her popularity, Moon scored a landslide victory with 61.6 percent and 62.3 percent of votes there, respectively, beating his rivals Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party.

The Korea Herald had the opportunity to ask Kim about her role as a first lady. Her responses came several hours before the landslide win by her husband late Tuesday.

South Korea's new first lady Kim Jung-sook (left) holds newly elected president Moon Jae-in's hand. (Yonhap)

KH: Since last fall, you have visited Gwangju every week, often staying overnight. Is there any particular reason you chose to concentrate on the region during the campaign?

Kim: In the 18th presidential election in December 2012, nearly 92 percent of Gwangju residents voted for Moon (the candidate of the then-main opposition Democratic United Party). Their backing was truly overwhelming. However, despite their faith and earnest support, (my husband) lost the race. We had caused them great pain. After losing the election, I went to Gwangju and I couldn’t help but feel despair and grief in the city. I wanted to apologize as well as thank those who had trust in Moon. And, frankly, I wanted to receive some words of consolation from the citizens. The defeat was a huge letdown for us as well. So as not to disappoint them again, we gave all our body and soul until the very end to win the election this time.

KH: Michelle Obama set a new standard as a first lady during her time in the White House. What do you think of your role compared to that of Mrs. Obama?

Kim: I aim to be just myself, as I have always been. A first lady who can communicate with people, like anybody else, in what I call Kim Jung-sook-style. I am willing to contribute to building a society where no single person falls victim to injustice or discrimination, but where everyone can have a voice and be respected as much as any other. My husband once said he aims to be a president who can head to Gwanghwamun on his way home from work to have some soju with the people. Like him, I would like to go shopping for groceries at Namdaemun Market (like everybody else). Going around the country from corner to corner since the 2012 election, I have listened to the concerns and advice of local residents. I have and will always keep myself close to the ordinary citizens as first lady.

KH: You are the wife of a politician, but also a mother of two. What would you say about the difficulties people have bringing up children here?

Kim: I, too, have heard a lot about the concerns, and it’s really an unfortunate reality. It is every parent’s greatest pleasure to watch their children grow up. Moon has pledged to support parents in child care. That means it is the responsibility of the nation to ensure that the parents can take care of their children properly. One of the related pledges is the “10-to-4 policy,” a dual child care system for working parents. Within a maximum 24-month period, working parents with children aged below 8 can have flexible working hours between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. without reductions to their wages. Another pledge is expanding the number of state-run or public day care centers and kindergartens to account for 40 percent of all children enrolled in such facilities. I hope to make a family-friendly society with the belief that “one’s child is everyone’s child.”

By Bak Se-hwan (