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[Newsmaker] Kim Keon-hee expands role as first ladyBy Kim Arin
Published : Dec. 25, 2022 - 18:11
Kim Keon-hee is expanding her role as first lady, straying from her earlier promise that she would not play a role “beyond that of a spouse.”
While Yoon Suk-yeol was still a presidential candidate, the couple had said that Kim would not serve as first lady in the traditional sense if he is elected.
Kim told a press conference held last year that she would not have a formal presence as first lady during her husband’s tenure in office, and that she would “not have a role beyond that of a spouse” at the presidential office.
Yoon said in a press conference held Dec. 22 last year in North Jeolla Province that he has “long thought that the custom of having a first lady is outdated.”
How Kim handles her role as first lady has come under scrutiny since Yoon took office.
“I believe it’s a good thing that the first lady is doing her job,” said Park Jie-won, the former President Kim Dae-jung’s chief of staff and onetime National Intelligence Service director, during a phone call with The Korea Herald on Sunday.
“Her work and activities should, however, be managed by the presidential office,” said Park, who recently rejoined the Democratic Party of Korea.
“The press corps should also have access to cover them,” he added.
On the first lady meeting with the family of a victim of the Oct. 29 crowd crush in Itaewon, Park told a radio interview on Nov. 11 that she “touched people’s hearts.”
“She wept with the bereaved family and apologized to them. Why isn’t the president doing what the first lady is doing? She is doing a much better job.”
After Yoon was sworn in, he removed the first lady’s office as promised. The first lady's official schedule is still announced through briefings or press releases, and the press corps is usually not informed in advance or invited to cover it.
The presidential office on Sunday sent a message to the press corps publicizing a Korea Herald news article on the first lady’s activities.
The message linked to the article posted on the Cambodian outlet Khmer Times website, which was about Kim catching up with Aok Rotha, a 14-year-old Cambodian boy who recently received a sponsored heart surgery at Asan Medical Center in Seoul. Kim first met Rotha during her trip to Phnom Penh last month.
The opposition has criticized the first lady’s public appearances.
Democratic Party’s supreme council member Rep. Jang Kyung-tae called Kim visiting Rotha’s family during her Cambodia trip “poverty porn” while appearing as a guest on online media outlet Ohmynews’ YouTube show on Nov. 17.
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