Factional conflict in the Unified Progressive Party over a vote-rigging scandal deepened on Sunday as the far-left party’s mainstreamers refused to accept its decision-making panel’s recommendation designed to shore up public trust.
The party’s national steering committee recommended on Saturday that its leadership resign and 14 candidates on its proportional representation list withdraw, including three lawmakers-elect.
The committee reached the decision during an online session to quickly contain the scandal that seriously undermined its core principles of democracy and morality, and its legitimacy as the third-largest party in the National Assembly.
UPP mainstreamers, who did not attend the session, are vehemently against it.
Kim Jae-yeon, who was elected through proportional representation, said that the panel’s recommendation should be scrapped, stressing that it was based on the investigation results “fraught with many problems.”
Underscoring that she was picked as the party’s “representative of the youth,” the 31-year-old lawmaker-elect made it clear that she would not step down.
“I was elected legitimately and am confident about that. I was elected through a fair, just process,” she told reporters.
The party’s mainstreamers have refused to accept the results of an in-house inquiry into alleged irregularities in the selection of the party’s proportional representation candidates, claiming that it was insufficient and based on suspicions, not facts.
Many of them are from the National Liberation faction, which is suspected of heavy involvement in the scandal.
They are led by UPP co-chair Rep. Lee Jung-hee, who was forced to renounce her candidacy for the April 11 general elections after her campaigners were found to have rigged the opinion poll used in the opposition alliance’s nomination contest.
Under the panel’s decision, the party’s four co-chairs ― Lee, Rhyu Shi-min, Sim Sang-jeong and Cho Jun-ho ― are also to step down when the party convenes its top decision-making Central Committee this Saturday to approve the recommendation.
The recommendation also calls for the withdrawal of the 14 proportional representation candidates who were included on its list of 20 proportional representation candidates through a purportedly fraudulent process. They include three who were elected, whose seats would be taken by others on the party list.
The steering committee has also decided to form an emergency committee that will scrutinize the party’s inappropriate electoral practices and carry out reforms to shore up public confidence. It is to be disbanded after the party elects a new leadership by the end of June, officials said.
The committee held the online session as the offline meeting failed to proceed earlier in the day with the mainstreamers obstructing its proceedings in protest of its agenda. Out of the 50 committee members, 28 were present at the online session.
Last Wednesday, the UPP announced the outcome of the internal investigation into claims of irregularities in an in-party election in March to select proportional representative candidates.
Co-leader Cho, who headed the probe team, indicated that the party’s electoral process both online and offline was marred by irregularities, stressing that the process has led to a loss of legitimacy and credence.
In the party’s primaries, many purportedly cast proxy votes. In some cases, the votes that should be invalidated were counted. In some polling stations, a sole party official led the vote counting process without any observers.
In the wake of the election fraud scandal, the party’s factional cracks reopened.
Some argued that the party’s mainstreamers, most of who belong to the National Liberation faction, have long committed such electoral frauds in order to maintain its power in the leftist party.
The NL faction is viewed as pro-North Korea and anti-U.S., while its competing faction, People’s Democracy, is seen as more moderate.
Non-mainstreamers have harshly denounced those involved in the vote-rigging process and called for a sweeping overhaul of the party while the mainstreamers argue that the in-house probe is unreliable.
The deepening factional conflict also sparked concerns over the party’s possible disintegration. Rhyu, however, dismissed the concerns.
During a press conference on Sunday, Rhyu called on the party ranks to follow the party’s decision over how to deal with the scandal, while remaining uncertain over whether to demand the withdrawal of the proportional representation candidates.
The UPP has gained much political clout after it gained 13 parliamentary seats in the April elections.
It was created last December after merging three progressive parties. Among the merged parties is the Democratic Labor Party, which consisted of core NL members, including Rep. Lee.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org