An extreme right-wing physician has won the election on Friday to become president of the Korean Medical Association, a group of more than 120,000 doctors in Korea.
Choi Dae-zip, who has been actively working for far-right groups such as Freedom Pioneer Youth Group and One Free Korea Liberation Army, won 6,392 votes, or 29.7 percent of the total 21,547 valid votes, earning more than 2,000 votes than the runner-up candidate.
A graduate of Seoul National University’s College of Medicine, Choi works as a general practitioner and runs a clinic in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.
His political stance has stirred up the medical community especially after his winning of the KMA presidency. Choi has been engaging in conservative political movements for years. He had participated in “Taegukgi Rally” last year to demand the release of former President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted and held under arrest due to an influence-peddling scandal.
|Choi Dae-zip, who was elected as president of the Korean Medical Association on Friday, said he would work hard to unite the medical community.|
Some call Choi “Trump in the medical community” for his extreme nationalist remarks. He has been particularly critical of the Moon Jae-in administration’s healthcare policy based on universal benefits when he served as head of the KMA’s emergency planning committee and head of the National Union of Korean Medical Doctors.
On the news that Choi got elected, some doctors showed strong reactions and made comments such as “I’d better leave the KMA membership,” “How can this happen in the doctors’ society?” “The representative of the One Free Korea Liberation Army became KMA president,” and “Choi is a person who could make Trump blush.”
A former KMA president, who wished to remain unnamed, said he was “so worried” about Choi’s winning. Another KMA member, who was chair of the KMA’s executive board, said, “I don’t know what will happen to the KMA. This is frustrating.”
“Not only government officials but lawmakers feel burdened that Choi was associated with extreme right-wing groups. The situation can change depending on whether Choi will shed off his political color and focus only on KMA presidency, or he will keep his color,” said Noh Man-hee, president of the Korean Medical Practitioners Association.
Aware of the criticism, Choi emphasized the unity of the KMA after being elected.
“I will make every effort to unite and unify the medical community. I will meet as many representatives of doctors’ organizations as possible and organize a permanent council to solve conflicts or misunderstandings through dialogues,” Choi said. “I am fully aware of the concerns about me than anyone else. I will work hard to prove that such concerns were groundless.”
Observers said KMA members seemed to have chosen Choi, despite his controversial political stance, because doctors had too much hostility and sense of crisis against “Moon Jae-in Care,” the government’s policy to enhance the coverage of national health insurance.
The “Mooncare” aims to turn all of the non-insured medical care to insured ones. Physicians, who used to reduce losses by offering more non-insured treatments, regard the healthcare policy as something that threatens their survival.
The government’s policy was the biggest issue affecting the latest election of the KMA’s president. All of the candidates stressed the need to block the government from pushing further for “Mooncare.” One candidate even shaved his head to show his strong will to fight against the government.
Physicians chose Choi, who vowed to go to jail if he could not stop the government’s move. Although Choi’s conservative stance received criticism during the election campaign, the criticism did not affect his winning.
“Doctors feel they are in a state of emergency. The members wanted leadership that can overcome this crisis, and the election results showed that, too,” said Roh Hwan-kyu, former president of the KMA who led Choi’s election camp, another ultra-rightist. “Choi and our camp know about such opinions, and we feel heavy about our job. Doctors are so desperately opposing the government’s policy.”
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