The Korea Herald


North Korean defectors eye Assembly bids with Seoul’s conservative party

By Kim Arin

Published : March 14, 2024 - 17:59

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Kim Gum-hyok (left) and Park Choong-kwon are two of three North Korean defectors seeking a National Assembly seat as proportional representatives in the April 10 general election. Kim Gum-hyok (left) and Park Choong-kwon are two of three North Korean defectors seeking a National Assembly seat as proportional representatives in the April 10 general election.

At least three North Korean defectors are seeking to debut in Seoul’s political scene with the People Power Party, the ruling conservative party in South Korea.

According to the People Power Party, three North Korean defectors in their 30s are running for a National Assembly seat through proportional representation in the upcoming general election slated for April 10.

One of them is Kim Gum-hyok, 32, who says as a young millennial from North Korea, he wishes to represent “the younger generation’s changing attitudes toward Korean unification.”

“Younger Koreans definitely feel differently about a unified Korea than our parents' or grandparents' generations. For one thing, they don’t see unifying the two Koreas as a must,” he told The Korea Herald on Thursday.

On why he decided to run as a conservative party candidate, as opposed to the Democratic Party of Korea’s, he said he didn’t agree with the main opposition party’s approach to North Korea.

“Like many young Koreans around my age, I don’t agree with the way the Democratic Party is appeasing North Korea or their views that put South Korea’s relations with the North over our alliance with the US,” said Kim, who left North Korea in 2012.

He said that he was critical of the “North Korean regime enablers” among the Democratic Party -- namely Jeon Ji-ye, who recently quit the party following accusations of her leading rallies condemning South Korea-US joint military drills.

Kim was a policy aide at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs until he stepped down to pursue his dream of being a political voice for not just people who fled North Korea like himself, but “young people of all backgrounds.”

Another contender from North Korea, Park Choong-kwon, 38, told The Korea Herald on Thursday that he wanted to contribute to the National Assembly’s decisions concerning national security, using his training and experience as a missile scientist for Pyongyang.

Park was a researcher of intercontinental ballistic missile science at the National Defense University in Pyongyang. He worked for Hyundai Steel after he escaped from North Korea in 2009.

He said he chose to run as a People Power Party candidate because he finds the Democratic Party’s stance on North Korean issues to be “not aligned” with his own.

As a North Korean defector, he said he feels the Democratic Party “was more invested in improving ties with Pyongyang’s regime rather than working for enhancing human rights conditions for the North Korean people.”

All three North Korean defectors who joined the South’s Assembly as lawmakers have been with the main conservative party, including sitting lawmakers Rep. Tae Yong-ho and Rep. Ji Seong-ho.

Tae, a former senior diplomat for Pyongyang, is the first North Korean defector to be elected in a district and to serve on the party’s leadership. He left the traditionally conservative-leaning Gangnam-gu in Seoul for a second term in the Assembly in Guro, a Seoul district that rarely elects conservatives.

Ji was a human rights activist before entering the Assembly through the proportional representation system. Cho Myung-chul, who taught at Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung University before escaping, was the first North Korean defector to be elected as the Assembly’s proportional representative in 2002 before Ji.

No known North Korean defector has ever joined the Democratic Party.