Shin Ji-ye (center) is named senior deputy chair of the Saesidae Preparatory Committee at the committee’s office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Shin ji-ye, a 31-year-old feminist with liberal political inclinations, made headlines Monday as she crossed party lines and joined the campaign of Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential nominee of the conservative People Power Party.
The young politician ran as a Seoul mayor candidate for Green Party Korea in 2018, finishing fourth in the race with over 80,000 votes. Her campaign gained support from feminists and progressives as one of the first candidates in the country’s political history to run on a feminist platform at that time.
Announcing her support for the conservative presidential candidate, Shin said, “(Yoon) pledged to resolve violence against women, address the climate crisis and create a Republic of Korea that overcomes (the division of) left and right and moves forward, so I decided to take part.”
She also criticized Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, for representing at court his nephew, who had killed two women, when he was practicing law.
Her move, however, has stoked controversy across the political spectrum.
Kim Chang-in, spokesperson for the far-left Justice Party’s election committee, described Shin’s move as a “mysterious betrayal” by someone who has stood for feminist and green politics.
People Power Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung expressed his opposition to Shin’s decision on social media, describing her as a “hard-line feminist that causes division.”
Political commentator Park Sang-byoung said Shin is being seen as an “opportunist” in the wake of the new move.
“Shin and presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl stand for opposite values. Therefore, her move comes as a betrayal for third-party supporters who have fought for the environment and feminism. Within the People Power Party, she will be seen as an opportunist,” Park said.
“(Yoon) might have been in a rush to have more people on board, but will do more harm than good.”
Yoon Tae-gon, a senior political analyst at Moa Agenda Strategy, said while not many people are on board with the decision yet, it is a gesture from Yoon’s campaign to reach out to young female voters.
“It is a gesture to show that (the People Power Party) is interested in reaching out to women in their 20s and 30s. Though there is backlash, conservatives also have to think whether they can afford to not make such efforts and whether that is the right thing to do or not.”
Presidential rivals Yoon and Lee have so far focused on wooing young male voters by proposing to either scrap or bring change to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The ministry’s name in Korean directly translates to the “ministry of women and family.”
Both candidates have also been accused by critics of pandering to growing anti-feminist sentiment in the country.
But as the two leading candidates remain neck and neck in the latest polls, young women voters can no longer be overlooked, said political commentator Rhee Jong-hoon.
“Approval ratings for both of the leading candidates are quite low among young women voters and both parties will continue to make efforts to appeal to this group,” said Rhee.
“A landslide victory does not seem likely in this election which makes every point all the more important. As neither can afford to lose even 50,000 to 100,000 votes, young women voters for obvious reasons cannot be overlooked.”