[FORUM]A political victory for women“Oh, my! We have 39 women in the National Assembly!”
On the day of the National Assembly election, I flipped through the three network channels and couldn’t take my eyes off the television screen until 3 a.m. the next morning. I knew 28 of the 299 seats in the 17th National Assembly would be allotted to women, thanks to the efforts of an association of civic groups organized to watch the elections that had nearly camped out at the Assembly. But I was nervous that some kind of black magic would cut down the number.
I kept my eyes on the television because I was afraid the allotment might end up as a vain promise like an unrequited love. The day after the proportion of female lawmakers in the National Assembly became 13 percent, the first two-digit number in history, my eyes were bloodshot.
Today, female participation in politics is no longer rare. If that were not the case, how can women have two more proportional representation seats when the three major parties alternated male and female candidates on their list?
The United Liberal Democrats, which did not put a woman at the top of the list of proportional representation candidates, failed to garner the required 3 percent of support and did not win a single seat. The conservative party is now worrying about its very existence.
Even the specters of the district chapters, which had scared female hopefuls, crumbled in front of the revised election law. The female candidates, who traditionally have lacked solid social backing and ample financial support, had lost their confidence when they thought about how to finance a campaign that would cost an astronomical amount of money. So they had been reluctant to run in districts.
Even if a potential female lawmaker developed the courage to run in a district, she would be overwhelmed by the dominant financial and human network of male candidates. But times have changed. Boosted by the newly revised, far more stringent election law, the National Election Commission was more vigorous than ever. Fines for election illegalities were set at 50 times the amount of the alleged violation. Each candidate would have a spending limit of 170 million won ($147,000) for the campaign, while the election of anyone who spent as little as 0.5 percent more than the limit would be nullified. Campaign fund use was strictly regulated by the law, so candidates found it hard to spend even the permitted amount of money. Owing to the complete control over the money and network-driven campaign illegalities, Koreans have set a record of electing women lawmakers in 10 electoral districts.
What’s the big deal now that we have more female lawmakers? We still have fewer women in the Assembly than the worldwide average of 15 percent. The Grand National Party is headed by Park Geun-hye, but male politicians still dominate the five political parties that will run the 17th National Assembly.
Yet, 13 percent is still as charming as the love of my life. Let’s do the math. We have 39 female lawmakers, so each of the 17 Assembly committees will have at least two female members. No committee will be without female representation. Moreover, voters have anticipated that female politicians would help create clean politics and make the National Assembly free from strife, just because they are women. At a reception hosted by the 21st Century Women’s Forum to welcome women lawmakers, the women lawmakers agreed that they would unite regardless of their political affiliation unless they collide on policy issues.
The political climate had been cruel to women. But the sky has cleared, and the wind is much warmer. Our Open Party’s Kim Hee-sun confided that the female candidates for proportional representation seats were selected based on whether they had a sufficient sense of responsibility to run in a district in the next National Assembly election and strengthen the women’s share of the political world.
If at least half of the proportional representatives were successful in district elections, we would have 50 women in the 18th National Assembly, while 60 females would be included in the 19th National Assembly and 70 in the 20th Assembly. As Lee Gye-gyeong of the Grand National Party has pointed out, the precedent of having a woman on the party’s candidate nominating committee has been set.
As we have seen in the experience of Kim Seon-mi of Our Open Party, who won in the Anseong district in Gyeonggi Province, voters no longer prefer big-name politicians and support a “candidate who is just like us and listens to our voices.” So the 50 percent success rate would not be a far-fetched hope. District chapters, which have financially burdened district-based lawmakers, will be abolished, so lawmakers will not have to worry about their maintenance. The government will reimburse the entire campaign cost for any candidate who garners more than 15 percent of the votes. So there is no reason to be reluctant.
Have women’s politics gotten over the critical moment of unattainable love? I hope the female lawmakers accomplish a silent revolution in politics with a soft yet strong power.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Hong Eun-hee