WORLD / ASIA-PACIFIC
Seoul voters go to polls after abuse scandal puts spotlight on women’s rights
Published: Apr 07, 2021 06:43 PM
Voters in Seoul went to the polls Wednesday to pick a successor to the mayor of South Korea's capital, who took his own life following allegations of sexual abuse.

South Korea's ruling Democratic party picked a woman candidate to defend his seat, but several of its top figures have lined up to defend late mayor Park Won-soon.

Female MPs have also privately denigrated Park's accuser, in what campaigners say shows how low a priority the progressive party of President Moon Jae-in puts on women's rights.

A similar by-election was also being held in the country's second city Busan, after its Democratic mayor was also accused of harassment and resigned.

Following Park's death in July, when he left a hand-written apology on his desk, Seoul's Democrat-controlled city administration held an official five-day mourning ceremony.

But in January, the National Human Rights Commission confirmed he had committed sexual misconduct, and his victim told reporters last month, "If the [next] mayor is elected from the party that hurt me, I fear that I will not be able to return" to normal life.

Party figures who have defended Park include Lim Jong-seok, Moon's former chief of staff.

Kwon Soo-hyun, president of Korea Women's Political Solidarity, said, "Gender issues and women's rights will not get fixed simply by having a woman candidate for the by-election."

With around one-fifth of South Korea's population living in Seoul, the vote is seen as a significant barometer of public opinion ahead of a presidential election next year.

Democrat candidate Park Young-sun, 61, a former journalist and four-term parliamentarian who has pushed for a 50 percent female legislature, had a mountain to climb as the polls opened.

The latest surveys from last week showed her around 20 points behind Oh Se-hoon of the conservative opposition People Power Party.

The capital's soaring property prices have been a key issue in the election, with many young citizens despairing of ever being able to afford a home of their own, exacerbated by a corruption scandal at the state housing developer.
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