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Meet the freshmen of S. Korea’s National Assembly

From ‘blue-eyed’ doctor to Olympic shooting champion, political rookies with distinctive backgrounds enter legislature

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 11, 2024 - 15:29

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Ihn Yohan (Yonhap) Ihn Yohan (Yonhap)

From a naturalized South Korean doctor of US missionary descent to a four-time Olympic pistol shooting champion and the former chief executive officer of the country’s largest business conglomerate, several new faces are pursuing a second career in politics through the April 10 general election.

New to the National Assembly is Kwak Sang-eon of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, who won an Assembly seat for Seoul’s Jongno constituency against the incumbent Rep. Choi Jae-hyeong, who represents the ruling People Power Party.

Kwak Sang-eon (Yonhap) Kwak Sang-eon (Yonhap)

Kwak, the son-in-law of the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, joined the Democratic Party in 2020 and has been chairman of the party’s Jongno regional committee since 2022.

Koh Dong-jin of the ruling People Power Party, a former president of Samsung Electronics, is another political newcomer and has been elected to represent the Gangnam-C constituency.

Koh Dong-jin (Yonhap) Koh Dong-jin (Yonhap)

Prior to joining the party in January, Koh worked for the tech giant for four decades and was considered the driving force behind the launch of the Galaxy series of mobile devices. Koh stepped down from his post as president in December 2021 and has since taken up an advisory role at the company.

Leaving behind his 31-year career, journalist-turned-lawmaker Shin Dong-wook of the People Power Party started a new chapter of his life following his victory over Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo of the Democratic Party for Seoul’s Seocho-B District.

Shin, 56, joined broadcaster SBS as a journalist in 1992. In 2017, he moved to TV Chosun and hosted the channel’s main news program until December 2023.

Journalist-turned-lawmaker Shin Dong-wook (Newsis) Journalist-turned-lawmaker Shin Dong-wook (Newsis)

Cho Ji-yeon of the People Power Party also received her first badge as a lawmaker through Wednesday’s general elections after winning the tight two-way race against four-term-lawmaker Choi Kyung-hwan in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province.

The 37-year-old previously worked in the spokesperson’s office and the new media policy secretary’s office at Cheong Wa Dae. Cho also served as the spokesperson for the People Power Party and the youth advisor to then-presidential candidate Park Geun-hye.

Among the candidates from the People Future Party, a satellite party affiliated with the People Power Party that was vying for proportional representation seats in the 300-member National Assembly, Ihn Yo-han, a naturalized Korean citizen and physician, won a seat with his party gaining 36.67 percent of the votes.

Dubbed the “blue-eyed” Korean, Ihn is the fourth-generation descendant of a US missionary family that helped build churches and schools in Korea during the Japanese colonial era.

Ihn served as the chief of the ruling party’s short-lived reform committee, as well as the director of the Severance Hospital International Health Care Center. He was also part of the then-President-elect Park Geun-hye’s transition team in 2013.

Jin Jong-oh (Newsis) Jin Jong-oh (Newsis)

Known as the most decorated shooter in Olympic history, with four gold medals and two silver medals across five Olympic Games, Jin Jong-oh, who also vied for a proportional representation seat with the ruling party, turned over a new leaf.

Jin, who retired in March, joined the People Power Party on Feb. 5. Most recently, he co-headed the organizing committee for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics, which took place in January in Gangwon Province.

In a surprise move, former singer Kim Jae-won, also known as Riaa, entered the political arena as a proportional representation candidate for the Rebuilding Korea Party, led by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Kim joined the party in March.

Kim previously made headlines for publicly declaring support for then-presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party in the 2022 presidential election.

Another fresh face is Kim Yong-man of the Democratic Party, the great-grandson of Korea’s late legendary independence fighter Kim Koo, who was elected to represent Hanam-B District in Gyeonggi Province.

Kim is a graduate of George Washington University’s Department of Political Science and has worked at South Korean defense firm LIG Nex1 for six years since 2014. He also served as a preparation committee member for the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation in 2015.