The fate of Rep. Kang Yong-suk is hanging in balance as the National Assembly Ethics Committee has almost unanimously agreed to expel him for a series of remarks insulting specific female professionals and other acts inappropriate for a lawmaker. The committee decision made by a vote of 12 in favor and one void will be referred to the plenary session where a two-thirds approval will finally remove the 41-year-old first-term lawmaker from the legislature.
It is pity that the jurist-turned politician, who had diplomas from Seoul National University’s College of Law and Harvard Law School and was recruited by the Grand National Party in the 2008 election, has ruined his career through indiscreet remarks unrelated to his political orientation. A district court last week sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment suspended for one year, finding him guilty of personal contempt and false accusation, the latter charge stemming from his countersuit against a defamation complaint.
Rep. Kang caused a stir in women’s groups when a Seoul daily quoted him as saying that women aspiring to become TV broadcasters should be “ready to offer everything they have.” He tried to vindicate himself as making a joke to a group of college students during a dinner with drinks, but faced the charge of contempt from an association of women announcers. The lawmaker elected from a Seoul constituency had already earned notoriety for sexually flavored remarks referring to some prominent women politicians, including Park Geun-hye, Na Kyung-won and Jun Hyun-hee.
Soundbites from Kang circulating in the Internet include the remark that “President Lee would have asked the phone number of a beautiful college girl during a Blue House reception weren’t first lady Kim Yoon-ok at his side.” He had just given up the basic decorum expected of a representative to act like a third-rate comedian specializing in vulgarity.
Sympathizers compare him with other public figures who committed sexual harassment of a physical nature and some lawmakers who obstructed Assembly proceedings with raw acts of violence but escaped harsh political sanctions ― let alone criminal punishment ― on account of political compromise. Yet, Kang’s case calls for a reprimand of utmost severity, considering the serious damage to the prestige of and trust in the legislature brought about by his repeated indiscretion.
Fortunately, we have had few scandals of the dimension of Strauss-Kahn or Berlusconi in our political community but many perpetrators of impropriety still seek tolerance with the excuse of alcoholic intoxication. This convenient tradition is the first to go if we are to raise the level of social decency and prevent the kind of embarrassment such as caused by Kang’s misbehavior.