The Korea Herald


[PROFILE} Park Won-soon, ‘People’s champion’

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 27, 2011 - 00:47

    • Link copied

Newly elected Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was the unified candidate of the liberal bloc.

The 55-year-old civic activist and human rights lawyer made his political debut through this high-profile by-election. It is the first time that a civil society leader without any political party membership has taken the helm of the Seoul municipality.

Park Won-soon (Yonhap News) Park Won-soon (Yonhap News)

Park has said that he joined the mayoral race after “seeing my fellow people suffer and the country going backward” under the leadership of the preceding GNP-affiliated mayors.

Park gained wide support particularly from those who want change in politics, which they say has been mired in partisan disputes at the expense of the public.

Support from entrepreneur-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo, popular among progressive young voters, apparently helped boost Park’s popularity.

Park founded the Beautiful Foundation, which runs the Beautiful Store charity shops all over the nation.

At the vanguard of fundraising efforts, Park developed a vast network of donors from heads of local conglomerates to conservative politicians.

Park initially enrolled in Seoul National University, but was expelled from the school in 1975 after being arrested for participating in a student-led democracy movement.

After a four-month jail term, which he said changed his life forever, he graduated from Dankook University and later passed the national judiciary exam in 1980. He subsequently earned a diploma to the London School of Economics.

An apprentice of Cho Young-rae, a legendary human rights attorney, Park himself became a mentor to SNU law professor Cho Kuk and novelist Gong Ji-young. Also backing his campaign was writer Lee Oi-soo who has a large following on Twitter.

Park has championed free school meals for all regardless of income and stressed the need to overhaul the Han River Renaissance project.

Those close to Park describe him as a workaholic that abstains from alcohol and rarely takes vacations.

By Robert Lee (