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Progressive party on verge of collapse

Umbrella labor group threatens to withdraw support over vote-rigging scandal

About five months after the grand coalition of Korea’s key progressive forces, the Unified Progressive Party appears on the verge of collapse over the factional struggle prompted by vote-rigging allegations.

The party now faces the danger of losing one of its biggest associates, as the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions warned they will revoke their support unless the UPP manages drastic reform. The progressive union also officially confirmed the resignations of the three proportional lawmakers-elect from their organization, including Na Soon-ja, Lee Young-hee and Yoongap In-jae. The umbrella union organization is set to make a final decision on their allegiance with the UPP on Thursday.

The violent turn at the UPP’s central committee meeting on Saturday was denounced by citizens and political watchers alike over the fall of the nation’s once-promising new political force. 
The Unified Progressive Party’s former leaders Rhyu Si-min (left) and Sim Sang-jeong are seen in this screen shot from the party’s homepage as the party’s central committee held an online meeting after its previous gathering was marred by violent clashes between members. (Yonhap News)
The Unified Progressive Party’s former leaders Rhyu Si-min (left) and Sim Sang-jeong are seen in this screen shot from the party’s homepage as the party’s central committee held an online meeting after its previous gathering was marred by violent clashes between members. (Yonhap News)

The UPP’s mainstream party members clashed violently with the non-mainstream members at the central committee meeting convened to discuss the replacement of the current leadership with an interim emergency committee.

The mainstream members, also known as the “National Liberation” group, have refused to accept the party’s internal investigation that ruled there were widespread irregularities during the voting of candidates for the party’s proportional parliamentary seats. One of the winners of the proportional seat on the UPP ticket is Lee Seok-gi, who is considered one of the key NL factionists.

“They have now shown the public clearly that they will attempt to protect their status at all cost,” said Yoon Pyung-joong, a politics professor at Hanshin University.

“It is a great shame as it was indeed an epochal development in Korean politics when the UPP came out the third largest parliamentary bloc (in the general elections), enabling aligned moves by various progressive forces in the future, which also reflected the spirit of the times.”

The KCTU held a marathon meeting on Saturday night and demanded that the UPP fulfill its original plan involving the resignations of the entire leadership and the proportional lawmakers-elect, along with a responsible implementation of countermeasures. They also called for an intensive reform of the party led by the emergency committee.

“If the UPP fails to live up to our last-remaining expectation, we will reconstruct our relations with the party fundamentally including a withdrawal of our support, and also continue our internal reform without suspension,” the KCTU said.

The umbrella union group is one of the biggest allies of the UPP, which is joined by about 130,000 members, among which 30,000 are said to be from KCTU. The UPP has also been relying heavily on the financial subsidies from the KCTU members in party operation, according to local news reports.

The KCTU’s denouncement of the UPP was echoed by other progressive organizations including the nationwide alliance of evicted or relocated residents.

“The party is neglecting matters related to the citizens and are avoiding their responsibilities related to the fraudulent election of the proportional representatives by being engrossed in their partisan interest and factionalism by distorting the situation to their own advantage,” the groups including Seomin Power said in a joint statement.

The main opposition Democratic United Party, also broke from its silence over the UPP hullabaloo and called for a resolution. The DUP, burdened with its alliance with the UPP during the general elections, has been keeping low profile over the vote-rigging controversy.

“We cannot help but be gravely concerned about the violent incident at the central committee of the DUP. As the direct cause (of the issue) is election malpractice, I believe it should be thoroughly clarified,” newly elected DUP floor leader Park Jie-won told reporters on Sunday.

“I reemphasize that this problem must be clearly solved in order for us to be able to seize the next government at the presidential election in the end of the year. The solidarity among the opposition forces is aimed at gaining the trust of the people. It is worrisome how (we would) manage to gain the people’s trust if things were to be like this,” Park added.

Observers suggested the recent event would lead to an inevitable reorganization of the progressive forces.

“The entire collapse of the UPP is a tragedy and it will gravely harm the solidarity of the opposition forces. The ‘democrats’ inside the UPP must take the lead and reform the party,” wrote Seoul National University law professor Cho Kuk on his Twitter account.

“This should be the opportunity to realize party reform with clear procedural democracy. External forces must also exert strong pressure.”

The UPP was launched in December upon the union of three liberal parties ― the Democratic Labor Party, the People’s Participatory Party and a group that defected from the New Progressive Party.

By Lee Joo-hee (