Ex-professor back in political spotlight
Published : Apr 28, 2011 - 18:58
Updated : Apr 28, 2011 - 18:58
By Kim So-hyun
Democratic Party presidential hopeful Sohn Hak-kyu now has a good chance of becoming the strongest candidate of the entire opposition.
Having won his ticket back to the National Assembly in Wednesday’s by-election, Sohn is set to regain his clout in the DP, which had fizzled out after the defector from the Grand National Party lost in the DP’s internal race for presidential candidacy in 2007, and again in the general elections in 2008.
Born in 1947 as the youngest of seven children to two schoolteachers in a rural neighborhood near Seoul, Sohn grew up watching his mother scrape a living after his father died in a car accident when Sohn was three years old.
When Sohn entered Seoul National University to major in political science in 1965, Korea was going through a politically and socially turbulent time, having to establish diplomatic ties with Japan only two decades after it was freed from 36 years of humiliating colonial rule under the neighboring country.
He joined student protests against the controversial 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty and took lead in the following student-led democratization movement against Korea’s then authoritarian rule.
After graduating from college, Sohn went on to work in factories as part of efforts to advocate the rights of workers who suffered from low incomes in the early 1970s. He was jailed for a year as he continued to work with Christian social activists until former president Park Chung-hee’s 18-year dictatorship ended in 1979.
In 1980, Sohn went to study political science at Oxford University with financial aid from a British Christian group.
Upon earning a doctorate in Oxford, Sohn returned to Korea and taught political science at Inha University and Sogang University.
In 1993, Sohn ran in the parliamentary by-election on the ruling party’s ticket and won. He won twice again in the parliamentary general elections in 1996 and 2000. He also served as health and welfare minister for 10 months under then president Kim Young-sam.
In 2002, Sohn was elected governor of Gyeonggi Province. After resigning as governor in 2006, he went on a 100-day trail across the country during which he experienced working in a coal mine and rebuilding a flood-stricken dike in Gangwon Province.
In March 2007, Sohn left the Grand National Party amid disputes over how to run the party’s internal race for the presidential elections that year. He joined the Democratic Party despite severe public criticism that he had betrayed the party where he grew as a politician. He then lost the DP’s presidential ticket to Chung Dong-young.
The 64-year-old politician has served as chairman of the DP since October last year.