The Korea Herald


'Foot-in-mouth' plagues presidential election

By Im Eun-byel

Published : Dec. 28, 2021 - 16:06

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Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate for ruling Democratic Party (left) and Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate for People Power Party (Yonhap) Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate for ruling Democratic Party (left) and Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate for People Power Party (Yonhap)
With less than three months to go before the presidential election, slips of the tongue by candidates and election committee bigwigs are continuing to cause problems for their campaigns.

The Korea Herald rounded up some of the more notable times the presidential candidates and politicians around them have put their respective feet in their mouths.

Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate for ruling Democratic Party

When and where: Social media, November 24

What: “One of my family members committed a serious act of dating violence in the past, but his family could not afford an attorney, so I had to provide defense for the case as I was the only attorney among his relatives.”

Explained: Lee’s nephew barged into his girlfriend’s home in eastern Seoul and murdered her and her mother in May 2006. Lee defended his nephew as an attorney.

Lee was mainly criticized for referring to the murders as an unfortunate case of “dating violence.” He also faced with criticism for citing the defendant’s mental illness in appealing for lenience, when he himself has publicly criticized the practice of reducing sentences on mental health grounds.

Lee apologized shortly after an interview with the victims’ family criticizing Lee for referring to the murders as a case of date violence was published, saying he had never attempted to hide or downplay the case.

Song Young-gil, head of Democratic Party

When and where: Radio show, Dec. 22

What: “Kim Keon-hee uses banmal (informal speech) to Yoon Suk-yeol. We are all worried if (Yoon) actually becomes the president, Kim will have the actual power, even more than Choi Seo-won.”

Explained: Song said he was worried that Kim will be like Choi, a close friend of former President Park Geun-hye who was at the center of political scandal that led to her impeachment.

Song was criticized for the remark which reflects the outdated idea that women should treat men with deference, and that wives have to use formal speech when speaking to their husbands.

“For couples, who are equal, using informal speech is not something to be criticized,” Heo Eun-ah, a senior spokesperson for the People Power Party, said. “It is as if a father-in-law with Confucian ideals is scolding his daughter-in-law for her using informal speech to her husband.”

Song explained he does not use informal language to his wife who is a year older than him and couples should use language of respect to each other.

Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate for People Power Party 

When and where: Lecture at a party meeting, Aug. 2.

What: “Feminism should be healthy. It should not be used to gain advantage for an election or to seize power. Some say feminism has been politically abused, disabling healthy dating between man and women.”

Explained: Yoon’s remarks were seen as targeted at young male voters who hold anger toward feminism.

“Don’t appoint yourself to be the judge of what is healthy feminism and is not. Study the realities and voices of women first,” Kang Min-jin, head of the youth wing of the progressive Justice Party, said. 

When and where: People Power Party meeting, Oct. 19

What: “There were many people in the Honam area (North and South Jeolla provinces) who say Chun Doo-hwan did well in politics except for the military coup and the Gwangju Uprising.”

Explained: Yoon praising former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan by claiming many people believe he did well in conducting state affairs drew predictable ire, in light of Chun’s bloody suppression of a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju, and numerous human rights abuses.

He again drew fire by posting a photo of his dog being fed an apple few hours after making an apology for his insensitive remarks. In Korean, “apology” and “apple” are homonyms. The posting was considered to be mocking.

“It could have been okay if a candidate from Democratic Party said it, but as I am a candidate from People Power Party, my words could have touched the trauma of people in the Honam area,” Yoon elaborated on his words at a discussion hosted by the Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club in Seoul. “I sincerely apologize.”

When and where: Chonbuk University, Dec. 22

What: “People in extreme poverty who have not been educated do not know what freedom is, not realizing why individuals need freedom. We only know that freedom exists and what it is through a certain level of education, and basic economic wherewithal.”

Explained: Yoon’s remark was criticized for belittling those in poverty. The rival Democratic Party claimed Yoon separates himself from the poor and sees them as an object of education.

Yoon explained, he wanted to speak about helping the people in need. He later said Tuesday, “Freedom is a basic element of welfare, I emphasized every person should have the rights to enjoy freedom.”

Kim Byung-joon, co-chair of election campaign committee at People Power Party

When and where: Radio show, Dec. 1

What: “(Cho Dong-youn) is a pleasant looking young person. Frankly, it may not be an appropriate metaphor, but (having Cho in the election committee) is like wearing a very pretty brooch on a battle uniform. (Cho is) like a brooch directed at those in their 20s and 30s.”

Explained: Cho, a professor of military studies at Seokyeong University, was the first outside recruit to join the Democratic Party‘s presidential election campaign committee. She resigned from her post just days after being appointed, over allegations surrounding a past marriage.

The Democratic Party criticized Kim’s comment for demeaning women, noting that Kim compared Cho to an accessory.

“I did not target women, but the recruitment of Cho who has a fancy career. Accessories are not just for women,” Kim later said through an announcement.