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Local councilor vows legal action to continue military service during term

By Kim So-hyun

Published : Feb. 28, 2023 - 14:03

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Kim Min-seok, a councilor of Seoul’s Gangseo-gu Kim Min-seok, a councilor of Seoul’s Gangseo-gu

A 30-year-old incumbent local councilor began his alternative military service last week, portending a legal dispute over whether people should be allowed to hold public office while serving.

Kim Min-seok, a councilor of Seoul’s Gangseo-gu, was elected to the office through the local elections on June 1 last year on the People Power Party’s ticket, with his mandatory military service still pending.

All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve in the military for 18-22 months. Those deemed unfit for active duty are allowed to take an alternative form of service. Due to his record of multiple back surgeries, Kim received a Level 4 in the physical examination, which makes him entitled to 19 months of alternative work.

As the rules on social work as alternative military service stipulate that men on duty cannot engage in political activities such as joining a political party or other political organizations, he left the People Power Party.

The Seoul Facilities Corporation gave him the go-ahead to do his military duty there, so Kim began serving at the Seoul city-funded company on Feb. 24, becoming the first local councilor to do so during his term. There is no clear rule against district councilors having other jobs.

The Military Manpower Administration, however, made an authoritative interpretation that Kim cannot serve as a councilor and fulfill his military duty at the company simultaneously. Following that, the corporation cancelled its approval of Kim’s service there.

Kim told Yonhap News that he will file for a court injunction to suspend the ban on his concurrent service through his lawyer, and will also file a petition with the Constitutional Court.

Kim said he has only complied with the relevant rules to fulfill his military duty when there are no rules on elected officials taking leave of absence. Kim’s term as a member of the Gangseo-gu council is four years, while the alternative service will last 19 months.

As the number of young politicians is increasing, similar situations could happen in future.

There are currently two Seoul City and district councilors who have not yet completed their military duties yet.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea called on Kim to resign.

The Seoul City division of the party said in a statement on Sunday that “the damage from the administrative vacuum caused by his (alternative military) service will be suffered by the people of Gangseo-gu,” urging Kim to step down as councilor and the People Power Party to apologize.