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Former North Korean Diplomat Wins Seat in South’s Legislature

Thae Yong Ho, a former minister at the North Korean Embassy in London who came to Seoul with his family in 2016, speaks during a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondent Club in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn…
Former North Korean Diplomat Wins Seat in South Korea’s Legislature
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A former North Korean diplomat has won a seat in South Korea’s National Assembly.

Thae Yong Ho was a candidate in the South Korean parliamentary elections on Wednesday. He became the first North Korean to have fled the North and won an assembly seat. Tens of thousands of North Koreans live in South Korea.

Thae was elected to represent voters in the mostly wealthy Gangnam neighborhood in Seoul. He was a former minister at the North Korean embassy in London. He defected and resettled in South Korea with his family in 2016.

“Republic of Korea is my motherland,” an emotional Thae said at his campaign office. “I thank you (Gangnam voters) for selecting me to become the first (defector) from North Korea to win a constituency ... I’ll only uphold your order and work hard.”

Thae later bowed deeply and waved his hands, making his fingers in the shape of the letter V. He started singing South Korea’s national anthem with supporters as tears came to his eyes.

Thae is a member of the country’s main conservative opposition, the United Future Party. It has called for stronger action to deal with North Korea’s nuclear activities and its record of human rights abuses.

North Korea was not a major issue in the South Korean elections. Instead, many voters are concerned about the spread of the new coronavirus. The South’s ruling, liberal Democratic Party espouses better relations with North Korea. The party took control of 180 of the 300 available seats, partly because of the government’s reaction to the virus.

Before the elections, Thae said he decided to compete for a seat in the National Assembly to help South Koreans understand the true nature of North Korea. He also said he wanted to map a better unification policy. He has said his election would give hope to suffering North Koreans.

It is unusual for a member of the North’s ruling elite to defect to South Korea. About 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea over the past 20 years. Most are rural people escaping poverty.

Thae has said he decided to flee because he did not want his children to live “miserable” lives in North Korea. He said he was saddened after watching North Korean leader Kim Jong Un execute officials and seek development of nuclear weapons.

North Korea has called Thae “human scum” and accused him of stealing government money and other crimes.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Bill Gallo reported this story for VOANEWS. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

defect –v. to leave a country, political party, or organization and go to one that is a competitor

select – v. to choose

uphold – v. to support or confirm

bow – v. to bend over as a sign of respect

anthem – n. a song officially accepted by a country to express national identity

espouse – v. to express support for

proportional – adj. having a number that is directly related to something else through some sort of method

elite – n. the people who have the most wealth and highest positions in a society

miserable adj. terribly unhappy or sad

scum n. a worthless individual