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Ruling party politicians' visits to flood-damaged areas cause stir

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Rep. Kim Sung-won of the ruling People Power Party, center wearing rose-colored scarf, says he honestly wishes it would rain more right now so that the photos would come out better during his visit to a severely flood-damaged area in Dongjak District, Seoul, Thursday. Screenshot from Channel A
Rep. Kim Sung-won of the ruling People Power Party, center wearing rose-colored scarf, says he honestly wishes it would rain more right now so that the photos would come out better during his visit to a severely flood-damaged area in Dongjak District, Seoul, Thursday. Screenshot from Channel A

By Lee Yeon-woo

The questionable attitudes of some ruling party politicians visiting areas damaged by this week's torrential rains and flooding have stirred up criticism from around the country, saying that such visits are not sincere and only for show.

Rep. Kim Sung-won of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) fueled public anger when his remarks while visiting a neighborhood severely damaged by the rains and flooding ― Sadang-dong, Dongjak District, Seoul ― were picked up by a local broadcaster's camera, Thursday. Dongjak District is one of the areas in Seoul that was hit the hardest by the pounding rains earlier this week, and Kim was visiting the site to assist in a post-flood clean-up with PPP floor leader Kwon Seong-dong.

"Honestly, I hope it rains right now so that the photos will come out better," Kim said to his fellow lawmakers at the site. Rep. Lim Lee-ja, who stood next to Kim, slapped his arm and pointed to the camera to warn him to watch his mouth. However, the scene was already being broadcast live.

As the video went viral, a great deal of criticism has been leveled at Kim for making such an insensitive remark, considering how the record torrential rains have caused great damage to people's livelihoods and property, and he was supposed to be visiting the site to help restore the area after severe flood damage.

Kim held a press conference Friday, apologizing for his inappropriate statement and promising to put his best efforts into helping those who were affected by the flooding. Despite his apology, his party, the People Power Party, (PPP) is expected to hand Kim's case over to its ethics committee, according to PPP interim chief Joo Ho-young.

A promotional image uploaded on the presidential office's website and social media, Tuesday, it features a photo of President Yoon Suk-yeol and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon in front of the semi-basement flat in Seoul where a family of three died when their home was flooded with rainwater from a sinkhole in the adjacent road, Monday. Screenshot from the presidential office's Facebook account
A promotional image uploaded on the presidential office's website and social media, Tuesday, it features a photo of President Yoon Suk-yeol and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon in front of the semi-basement flat in Seoul where a family of three died when their home was flooded with rainwater from a sinkhole in the adjacent road, Monday. Screenshot from the presidential office's Facebook account

Kim was actually not the first or only politician who made people frown after the record heavy rainfall earlier this week.

The presidential office used a photo of President Yoon Suk-yeol crouching down to look into a semi-basement flat in Gwanak District, Seoul, to make a promotional image for Yoon on its website and social media. The photo was taken at the site where a family of three, one of whom had a developmental disability, died after getting trapped in the home when it flooded with rainwater, Monday evening.

The image read that the president will promptly restore and support the damaged area, thoroughly examine regions where housing is not safe and prepare measures to support safe housing for the vulnerable.

Online users bombarded the presidential office's website and social media comment section for its lack of consideration and exploiting the family's deaths for promotional content. The post was deleted the following day and the presidential office apologized for its inappropriate actions.

These two incidents are not the first time politicians have behaved inappropriately in areas affected by disasters.

Rep. Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party was also criticized for only taking pictures in a flood-damaged site in 2020, as her clean attire suggested that she hadn't actually done any work. In 2017, Rep. Hong Jun-pyo, then-leader of the Liberty Korea Party, a predecessor of the PPP, was spotted in a flood-damaged area with a staff member kneeling to help Hong put boots on.

"Politician volunteer work in disaster-hit areas is done to establish their identity as a representative of the public while consoling the public and being there for the public," Lee Jun-han, a political science professor at Incheon University, told The Korea Times.

He noted that politicians should do the volunteer work with sincerity and avoid considering it a one-off event to show off.

"They should have visited the place quietly and taken a low-key approach in their volunteer work. If you flock to a disaster-stricken area and make a fuss, the activity might backfire," Lee said. "In the end, your actions will speak louder than words."


Lee Yeon-woo yanu@koreatimes.co.kr


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