Is achieving a two-digit rate of women's participation in politics still a pipe dream?
The local elections, which recorded an all-time low turnout of 48.4%, ushered in 2 women district council heads out of 232 (0.9% compared to 0% in 1998), 63 women municipal heads out of 682 (9.2% compared to 5.9% in 1998), and 77 local council members out of 3,485 (2.2% compared to 1.6% in 1988). This is a slight increase compared to the last local elections in 1998, but considering the women quota system that drew so much public attention recently, the increase is negligible.
One noteworthy difference is that out of the 73 municipal seats allocated according to the proportional representation system, 49 were taken by women, accounting for 67% of total. This falls short of the 100% demanded by women groups, but fulfills the quota pledged by each party (50% by the Millennium Democratic Party and 70% by the Grand National Party). In particular, the Democratic Labor Party gave top priority to women in allocating the seats it won through the proportional representation system, resulting in 9 women council members and contributing significantly to the overall ratio.
Unlike past local elections where not a single woman district council head was elected since 1995, 2 women made it this time. 8 women ran for district council heads, but only Chun Sang Su (Nam-gu, Busan, GNP) and Heo Ok Kyung (Haeundae-gu, Busan, GNP) were successful. Lee Geum La, a much-anticipated favorite from MDP who ran for district council head in Gangdong-gu, Seoul, lost the race.
In a commentary on the election results it released on June 18, the KWAU said, "The World Cup fever may have been one of the reasons for the low turnout, but a more fundamental reason is that our politics falls short of the World Cup in terms of gratification or fair play. That is why public response to the elections was not as enthusiastic as the World Cup. A few constituencies did produce fresh faces, but generally speaking, the low turnout is an accurate reflection of the voters' thoughts: there were few candidates they would have particularly wanted to vote for. Politicians should regard the low turnout as a warning from voters."
Meanwhile, women groups including the Korea Women Politics League and the Center for Korean Women and Politics are planning a seminar on the election results between late June and early July, in order to come up with measures in earnest for greater women's political participation in the future.