SEOUL, South Korea — The mayor of South Korea’s second-largest city resigned on Thursday after admitting to sexual misconduct, the latest prominent South Korean to fall as the #MeToo movement has rippled though this male-dominated society.
Oh Ke-don, the mayor of Busan Metropolitan City on the southeastern tip of South Korea, has been under pressure to resign since a female public servant accused him of sexually assaulting her in his office.
“I made an unnecessary physical contact with the person during a short, five-minute meeting,” Mr. Oh said during a news conference on Thursday, as he bowed deeply before cameras and fought back tears.
“I have realized that this could amount to a sexual assault,” he added. “Regardless of the severity of my act, I admit that it cannot be forgiven.”
“I apologize to the victim and will live the rest of my life in repentance,” he added.
An election will be held next April to choose Mr. Oh’s replacement.
Women’s rights groups have been demanding Mr. Oh’s resignation after the unidentified female victim reported her case to them.
Busan, with a population of 3.5 million, is the second-largest city in South Korea — only Seoul is bigger — and is politically conservative. Mr. Oh, 71, became the first left-leaning candidate to win the Busan mayor’s job when he and other candidates of President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party swept elections for big-city mayors and provincial governors in 2018.
The #MeToo movement took hold in South Korea in January 2018, when Seo Ji-hyeon, a female prosecutor, appeared on TV to say she had been groped at a funeral in 2010 by a male superior, who banished her to an obscure job after she filed a complaint.
The higher-ranking prosecutor, Ahn Tae-geun, was sentenced to two years in prison in January last year for abuse of power. (He could not be charged with sexual assault because the three-year statute of limitations had expired.) But in January, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider Mr. Ahn’s conviction.
Mr. Ahn resigned and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for raping his former secretary.
The decision of the two women to go public with their accusations was, at the time, extraordinary for South Korea, where men dominate the upper echelons of a strictly hierarchical society and victims of sexual violence often stay silent for fear of shame and retaliation.