UPP friction reveals far-left problems

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 7, 2012 - 20:02
  • Updated : May 7, 2012 - 20:02
Party’s core rejects internal probe findings, calls for leadership to quit

At the center of the ugly tussle inside the Unified Progressive Party is a group of left-wing extremists who have failed to grow out of their old days of student activism, political observers said Monday.

The mainstream faction, known as the “National Liberation” group, is accused of having rigged the party’s internal vote to pick proportional representative candidates to help their members win the top seeds on the party list.

Led by co-chair Lee Jung-hee, the NL faction stems from the largest student activists’ movement in the 1980s, which followed North Korea’s political ideology and championed anti-U.S. protests.

They hold a 55 percent stake in the UPP and key party posts such as secretary general, chief policymaker and head of the in-house election management committee.
Unified Progressive Party co-leaders hold a news conference Monday. From left are Cho Jun-ho, Sim Sang-jeong, Lee Jung-hee and Rhyu Shi-min. (Yonhap News)

Lee, one of the four co-chairs of the UPP, on Monday defended her embattled faction.

“We demand a thorough re-investigation by the fact-finding committee and a public hearing later to cross-check its findings,” she said during a party leaders’ meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul.

She criticized the findings of a probe led by co-leader Cho Jun-ho, which said the primary process was fraught with fraud and irregularities.

Lee and other NL members also rejected the recommendation from the party’s national steering committee on Saturday that its leadership and three lawmakers-elect who won the party’s nomination through the problematic primary resign.

Two of the three lawmakers-elect ―- Lee Seog-gi and Kim Jae-yeon ― belong to the NL faction and refuse to step down, while Yoon Geum-soon, a non-mainstreamer, gave up her parliamentary seat. Lee Seog-gi is said to be the de-facto leader of the NL faction.

The bust-up in the UPP laid bare a festering problem within the country’s extreme left, which has claimed to have the highest standards and has taken pride in their fearless fight for democracy under past military rulers,

The NL is one of the two forces that drove student activism in the ‘80s along with its rival, the more moderate People’s Democracy.

Critics said the former had been accused of rule-breaking before, yet failed to reflect on it, justifying procedural mistakes in order to achieve their ultimate goal.

They also pointed out the covert culture of the NL operation, citing a secretive organization called the Eastern Gyeonggi Coalition as the one that is pulling strings from behind the scenes.

“The problem is the mainstreamers. They don’t know how undemocratic they have become,” Jin Joong-kwon, professor of Dong-A University, said.

The vote-rigging scandal hit the UPP just as it prepares to join the new parliament with an increased political clout. In the April 11 general elections, the UPP won 13 seats of the 300-member National Assembly, including six in the party-list system.

The UPP also looks poised to exert bigger influence in the presidential election at the end of the year through an alliance with center-left Democratic United Party.

“Twenty years after the democracy began in Korea, the progressive force is at crossroads and is called on to embrace a sweeping reform,” said professor Kim Ho-ki of Yonsei University.

Seoul National University professor Cho Kuk said: “By putting a faction’s interest before that of the party and turning a deaf ear to the public criticism, you’re taking a shortcut to collapse.”

By Lee Sun-young (