The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Sim retires as progressive Justice Party chief

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : July 10, 2017 - 15:51

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The 2017 South Korean presidential election was filled with excitement and concern, with five unique candidates vying to fill the vacuum left by former President Park Geun-hye.

Among the five was Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party, the only female candidate in the race who fought hard to the end.
Sim Sang-jeung (Yonhap) Sim Sang-jeung (Yonhap)

On Monday, Sim announced she would step down from her role as chief of the minor opposition party, which holds just six parliamentary seats and is not recognized as a parliamentary negotiation group. She was named chairwoman in 2015.

“I now return as a proud member of the Justice Party and a lawmaker, but with a bigger mission -- to build South Korea’s dream in which there are confident labor values and the youth and women can love again,” Sim said at a press briefing held at the National Assembly on Monday.

The 58-year-old labor activist-turned-lawmaker is a rare character in Korean politics.

She is currently in her third term, making her career in the National Assembly the longest among female progressives.

She is also viewed as a trailblazer and role model for progressive candidates for the tough fight she displayed to the end of the election.

In two previous presidential elections, progressive candidates quitted midway, crushed between the traditional rivalry of liberals and conservatives. Unlike her predecessors, Sim refused to endorse a mainstream liberal candidate.

“I vowed to transform the Justice Party into a powerful and charming party when I became its new chairwomen back in 2015,” Sim said.

“The number of members and approval rate for the party have doubled within the past two years, but my main focus was to transform the Justice Party into a group more adaptable to the modern political party system.”

“I believe setting a foundation for the Justice Party to become a progressive party for the people was my biggest accomplishment (during my time as chairwomen).”

Sim also added that this year’s election was meaningful for both her and her party due to the attention and support they received for their labor policy.

“We were able to clearly present the vision of a ‘welfare state’ -- where the value of labor is respected -- to the people.” Sim said.

“This earned the support of the South Korean youth, women, and irregular workers.”

Although the election victory went to President Moon Jae-in with 41.1 percent of votes, while Sim secured 6.2 percent, political pundits have spoken highly of her achievement. The number of votes she earned was the highest among progressive candidates in South Korean election history to date.

The progressive candidate started the race with a near zero support rating, but garnered public support through a series of clean-cut remarks in televised debates.

After the fourth televised presidential debate in April, the Justice Party received 250 new members and campaign donations worth 150 million won ($131,000), a milestone for the party at the time.

In the debate, Sim, who openly advocates the LGBT community in South Korea, criticized Moon for his stance on homosexuality, which he “does not approve of.”

“Homosexuality is not something you can approve or disapprove of. It is a sexual identity,” Sim said during the debate.

During Monday’s press briefing, the lawmaker vowed to meet and talk with citizens at the center of their lives, work, and residential areas to develop a “new South Korea.”

By Jung Min-kyung (