New Zealand's 1st Korean MP

      August 11, 2009 08:34

      Melissa Lee

      Nov. 8, 2008 was a memorable day for a Korean New Zealander Melissa Lee. In the general election that day, Lee became the first Korean immigrant to get into parliament on the ruling National Party list.

      "I had never been as happy as that day except when I gave birth to my baby," Lee, in Seoul to attend the 2009 Future Leaders Conference hosted by the Overseas Koreans Foundation, recalled Monday. "It was the day when my old dream came true. In elementary school in Korea, I always wrote down 'president' when we had to fill in surveys asking what our future dreams are."

      She moved to Malaysia with her family when as a fifth grader, and to Australia when in her first year of high school for better prospects for university. After she graduated from university in 1988, she relocated to New Zealand with her family.

      Her first job in New Zealand was as a newspaper reporter. Five years later, she found a job with New Zealand's state-run broadcaster TVNZ. As an anchor, she was involved in making programs dealing with issues on ethnic minorities. In 1996, she set up her own company Asia Vision, producing and presenting shows.

      She received the first courting calls from the NP 10 years ago, but declined the offer at the time. "I had my son in 1998, and I thought it wouldn't be ideal to enter politics with a baby at home. Was it 2006? I had an offer from the NP again before the 2008 general election and accepted as my boy had quite grown up," she said.

      In June, Lee took another challenge. She ran for the Mount Albert by-election when the constituency became vacant after former prime minister Helen Clark left to take up the position of the head of the UN Development Programme. In the end, Lee lost to David Shearer of the Labour Party, but under New Zealand law, Lee was able to keep her parliamentary seat. "It was a big experience for my future career," said Lee.

      "I would like to be a political bridge between Korea and New Zealand during my three-year term," she said, "First of all, I want to work toward the signing of the Korea-New Zealand free trade agreement. My dream is also nurturing future Korean-New Zealander politicians. I would like the 35,000 or so Korean New Zealanders to find hope in me." What would be the end goal of her political ambitions? "Since I started it, at least shouldn't I be a minister?” she asked.

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