First lady Kim Keon-hee vows to help Yoon from the sidelines
In her first official message to the public as Korea’s next first lady, Kim Keon-hee vowed to assist president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol in faithfully carrying out his duties — “albeit weakly.”
The remarks were relayed Thursday by the main opposition People Power Party (PPP)’s campaign headquarters, hours after Yoon was announced the winner of the closest presidential race to date.
Asked about her duties as the first lady, Kim said the “top priority” of a president’s spouse was to “create an environment in which the president can dedicate himself to state affairs.” If circumstances allow, Kim said she and Yoon will try to work together to “address the problems of the underprivileged and those in the shadows of growth,” to whom the government has not yet reached out.
Kim has made no known public appearances since Yoon was declared president early Thursday morning, sticking to the low-key profile she has maintained since Yoon entered the race last year.
For political onlookers, Kim’s dodging of media attention was no surprise, given that Kim said in a press conference last December she would “only be faithful to wifely duties” even if Yoon became president. Yoon weighed in, saying he would abolish an office within the Blue House tasked with supporting the first lady and her involvement in ceremonial occasions.
During campaign season, Kim wrote a letter to a group of the spouses of PPP politicians, in which she said, “Being a politician’s wife requires sacrifice. I send you respect. I, too, will learn well.”
Kim, head of the art event-planning company Covana Contents, was catapulted to the center of media scrutiny and political mudslinging from the early days of Yoon’s presidential race, facing a slew of scandals targeting both her private and professional lives.
Rumors first swirled that, before marrying Yoon in 2012, she used to work as a hostess at a hotel nightclub under the alias Julie, which she adamantly denied. Kim was later accused of exaggerating her credentials to land teaching positions at universities and plagiarizing her Ph.D. dissertation and three academic papers, part of which is being investigated. Most recently, Kim was accused of being influenced by shamanism and using her beliefs to affect Yoon’s election camp.
Close aides to Yoon and his wife, however, describe Kim as a “hidden assistant,” who often goes to great lengths to help her husband make wise decisions — all behind closed doors.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a source who described herself as an acquaintance of Kim said that Kim once mentioned she “eagerly” wanted to help Yoon but that she didn’t know how. Kim was said to have lamented the fact that she couldn’t show up at any of his campaign stops.
Yoon’s aide told the JoongAng Ilbo over the phone Tuesday that when Yoon made controversial remarks about former President Chun Doo Hwan, it was Kim who persuaded him to quickly issue an apology. At informal gatherings with PPP officials, Kim was said to have told aides not to make Yoon drink too much, out of concern for his physical health.
The couple has an age gap of 12 years, and they have no children. Their family includes four dogs and three cats.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, HYUN IL-HOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]