Thae Yong Ho, the second-highest ranking North Korean official to have defected to South Korea, made history becoming the first defector to be directly elected as a lawmaker in South Korea. His win in the affluent Gangnam district known for upscale luxury apartments and high-end fashion houses is also a light blow to the ruling party of South Korea.
“I risked my life and came to the Republic of Korea in search of freedom, democracy and market economy,” Thae told local press on live broadcast. He also emphasized that his election would “be an opportunity to publicize South Korea’s broad-mindedness and democracy to the world and especially to North Korea.”
Thae has drawn international attention four years ago, seeking asylum in South Korea while serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom. He has since successfully settled in Seoul with his wife and two sons, making his career as an outspoken researcher, lecturer, a best-selling author and a YouTube influencer with 163K subscribers to his channel.
Another North Korean defector, Ji Seong Ho, secured a position through proportional representation for the same conservative opposition party. Ji is a high-profile human rights activist who had made a surprise appearance at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.
“Kim Jong Un is the person who will be most unhappy when I become a lawmaker in South Korea.” Tae said during his campaign speech to Gangnam residents. He told ABC News that his participation in the National Assembly can signal hope and new possibilities for the people of North Korea, especially the ruling class. “It can be a new signal to North Korea’s elite and people that South Korea is [an] open and inclusive society, so that in the future, we can be one again.”
“Thae knows the communist regime to the bottom and also has experience working as a diplomat in a democratic country for a long time. I believe that will give him a more objective stance in handling diplomatic issues,” Choi Younghae, a 70-year-old business woman who worked at a foreign embassy in her 30s, told ABC News on Monday.