Home > Migrants, Racial Discrimination > Lee Ra, Korea’s 1st immigrant to be elected to a provincial council: “I want to help multicultural families”

Lee Ra, Korea’s 1st immigrant to be elected to a provincial council: “I want to help multicultural families”

Tues Jun 15

Ji-Su Park

Lee Ra, a 33-year-old immigrant from Mongolia who obtained South Korean citizenship only two years ago, was elected to the provincial council of Gyeonggi Province as a proportional representative for the Grand National Party.

In her interview with Yonhap news, Lee said, “When we make a decision to come to this country, we think of spending the rest of our lives here.  So we don’t want to be treated as foreigners all the time.  While newcomers should make efforts to adjust to a new environment, the government needs to provide more support for them to help deal with the language barrier, the lack of job opportunities, and sometimes, discrimination.”

The South Korean local elections held on June 2nd were significant.  Many political parties across the nation including the Grand National Party, Liberty Forward Party, and the Participation Party had “multicultural candidates” as their candidates for proportional representatives.  Proportional representatives gain seats in the provincial councils according to the number of votes their party receives in the election.

Lee’s win holds a great symbolic significance in South Korean society, since she became the first naturalized Korean citizen to be elected to a public office in South Korea.

This year’s local elections were very unprecedented, since there were six multicultural candidates in several political parties.  But Lee was the only candidate who was elected to the office.  In the council of Gyeonggi Province, Lee plans to work on policies to improve employment and education for female foreign migrants and their children.

Lee first came to Korea in September 2003 after marrying a South Korean businessman.  She changed her name from Gerel Nergur, a Mongolian name, to Lee Ra, a Korean name.  Lee obtained South Korean citizenship in October 2008 and has been helping other foreign brides and multicultural families as a marriage-based immigrant herself.  Currently, Lee works at a Seoul immigration office and volunteers at a multicultural support center in Seongnam.

The National Election Commission of South Korea recently stated that today, 88,000 naturalized citizens and 12,899 foreign nationals who have been permanent residents of South Korea for more than three years have the right to vote. ■

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