Disabled female activist tops Uri proportional seats

By Joo Sang-min
Published March 29th 2004 in The Korea Herald

The pro-government Uri Party yesterday named a physically handicapped female civic activist No. 1 in its top of its first 12 selections when it announced its list of 40 candidates to be elected under the proportional representation system.

It was squarely aimed at boosting the party's image for the working class and the underprivileged, party officials said.

Hong Chang-sun, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, captured the top spot to show party concern for the science and engineering sectors.

The party finalized its top 12 candidates as a strategic list yesterday. The remaining 28 candidates will be decided today when 170 party members and outside figures vote to designate the standing numbers to them.

The strategic list includes Chung Eui-yong, chairman of the board of the International Labor Organization, former Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae, former South Gyeongsang Province governor Kim Hyuk-kyu, and former Environment Minister Han Myeong-sook.

Considering recent opinion polls indicating the party rates about 45 percent of voter support, approximately 27 candidates are expected to garner Assembly badges under the proportional representation systems.

These are seats distributed to the parties based on how many votes each party receives.

Under the new election law, voters will cast two ballots - one for a candidate and one for a party. They would elect 243 lawmakers through direct voting and 56 under the proportional representation system, making the number of parliamentary seats to 299 from 273.

The Uri Party pledged to fill half of its proportional representation candidates with women, giving them all odd numbers on the list. Other parties promised to do the same.

It was an unexpected choice for the party to nominate Jang Hyang-suk, the 46-year-old former co-chairperson of Differently Abled Women United, as its Ace card in the April 15 parliamentary elections.

"Jang's entry into the National Assembly will considerably change parliament and the entire society," Rep. Nam Goong-suek said. "Almost all the members of the screening committee gave her the green light."

Just a year after her birth in Yeongju, in North Gyeongsang Province, Chang fell ill with polio. She is self-educated and worked as a leader of the physically challenged civic group then joined the Uri Party last September as head of the party's special committee for the handicapped.

"I never dreamed of being nominated as No. 1 candidate," said Chang in a news conference Saturday.

"I will try my best to share my hopes with 4.5 millions of the handicapped people across the nation."

Those contesting the remaining 28 seats include Han Hang-soo, a former CEO of a Samsung subsidiary, Yoon Sun-hee, 28-year-old party standing committee member and Choi Jong-won, a drama actor.

The main opposition Grand National Party is expected to name its candidates today and the smaller Millennium Democratic Party has yet to finalize its plan amid the party's factional fighting over the impeachment vote.