[Viewpoint] Testing times for Choo Mi-ae
Female politicians are in the ascendancy for the first time in Korea’s political history, and their advance is nothing short of remarkable.
Out of 40 women serving as lawmakers in the National Assembly, three have served three or more terms. Former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye, according to some polls, is a favorite to become the next president. Kim Young-sun and Choo Mi-ae head standing committees in the National Assembly; Lee Mi-kyung is the secretary-general of the Democratic Party; Jeon Jae-hee is minister for health, welfare and family affairs; and Cho Bae-sook is one of the major female leaders in the Jeolla provinces. Kim Jung-sook, a representative of the Korean National Council of Women, is the founder of the Korean Institute for Women and Politics.
Female politicians have several special advantages, but perhaps the most significant is that they tend to have fewer cravings for money and power than their male counterparts. Historically speaking, they have had relatively few bribery allegations aimed at them and, regardless of the political factions under their control, they don’t tend to pull strings to use money. Women are also adept at conflict mediation and resolution. At the risk of stereotyping, women are inexorably linked to notions of nurturing and maternity. When an angry mob behaves like a beast, a female politician can work as a skillful tamer.
In the 2004 general elections, Park and Choo prayed for the public’s forgiveness in relation to their part in the attempted impeachment of the late President Roh Moo-hyun. If they had been muscular and male, angry voters wouldn’t have given them a second glance.
However, women politicians still have a long way to go. Voters wonder whether a Korean woman can serve as a crucial helmsman as women in advanced countries do. Voters want to know whether women really can handle the weight of political power, use their innate abilities to resolve crises and work as determined leaders without resorting to physical appearance or eloquence.
Choo, who heads the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee, enjoys considerable popularity. She finished her university degree thanks to scholarships and became a judge despite her impoverished background.
Choo caught the eye of former President Kim Dae-jung when he was opposition leader, and her sheer determination got her elected to the Assembly in last year’s general elections. As a four-term lawmaker, she grappled with Chung Sye-kyun to become the leader of the main opposition party.
However, she faces an important test as a politician, the biggest controversy in her political career.
Choo did not put the revised bill of the non-regular worker act before the standing committee she heads. She said that extending the deadline for employment will further aggravate the situation facing non-regular workers, adding that social consensus for the revisions exist.
The bill has not been put forward, for whatever reason, and non-regular workers are now getting fired one after the other. The GNP is attacking Choo by citing the situation as the “Choo Mi-ae unemployment crisis.”
Part of the problem with Choo is that she has focused her attention on proving that she is totally sincere about promoting workers’ well-being, but she has not has not adopted the right approach for this task. The problem is this: A standing committee chairman is a mediator, not a decision maker. However, Choo has blocked all normal procedures - putting the bill before the National Assembly, organizing a subcommittee for review, inviting interest groups for debate and devising a bill.
“The bill of the Labor Ministry has many defects,” Choo says. “If we put it before the committee and organized the subcommittee for the review, it would be essentially the same as the government’s bill.”
What she seems to have overlooked is the fact that the National Assembly should deal with the boiling water from the furnace of a bill review session, whether it is a government, GNP or DP initiative.
That’s the role she should have as committee head and, not having fulfilled that role, she should bear the responsibility for incapacitating the National Assembly. Under Roh’s presidency, social conflicts mushroomed because the methodology the late leader chose was weak. Choo should devise her own methodology to avoid looking like Roh.
The problem for Choo is she will undermine her credibility as a politician if she resorts to using socially inappropriate language in the future - her words last week cannot be published in this newspaper. It’s true that Choo displayed a firm determination to achieve her goal of saving the endangered Democratic Party in an anti-impeachment backlash in 2004 and undertook the “three steps, one bow” routine as part of her strategy. But she will become more powerful if she combines her firm determination with a normal methodology.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin