South Korea set to elect first defector lawmaker

Cho Myung-Chul is set to win office as the country`s first defector lawmaker.

Seoul: Less than a year after becoming the
first North Korean defector to take a senior government post
in South Korea, Cho Myung-Chul is set to win office as the
country`s first defector lawmaker.

Cho, who is standing for the ruling conservative New
Frontier Party (NFP) in the April 11 parliamentary poll, says
his victory would send a message both to his former homeland
and to fellow refugees struggling to adapt in the South.

"If I win, it will not only give hope but also practical
help to the defectors going through difficult times ... and
most significantly, it will have great influence on the elite
in the North," he said in a phone interview.

Cho, a one-time member of that elite who grew
disillusioned with the regime, seems almost certain to be
elected after being ranked fourth in the NFP`s list of
proportional representation candidates.

Electors vote directly for 246 legislators, while 54
seats are awarded on a proportional representation basis
depending on the level of support for each party. The aim is
to diversify the background of legislators.

"The NFP recognised the need to implement policies for
defectors, and carried it into action by putting a defector on
the list of proportional representation candidates," said Cho.

More than 23,500 North Koreans have fled their
impoverished communist homeland and come to South Korea since
the 1950-1953 war, the vast majority in recent years.

Despite government cash support and a mandatory
three-month stay in a resettlement centre after they arrive,
many struggle to adapt to a bewildering competitive capitalist

Cho, 53, formerly the head of the state-run Education
Centre for Unification, said he was prompted to stand by
recent events including the controversy over China`s policy of
repatriating fugitives from the North.

The Pyongyang regime, he said, viewed defectors as
social outcasts because South Koreans were unwilling to share
their economic pie. "But my case will prove them wrong and it
will be a hard blow to them."