Scandal-ridden progressive party faces leadership vacuum
The future of the scandal-ridden Unified Progressive Party was further in doubt over the weekend as the party faced a leadership vacuum upon violent disruptions of its central committee meeting.
Immediately before the start of the central committee meeting on Saturday afternoon, all of the party’s co-chairs ― Lee Jung-hee, Cho Joon-ho, Sim Sang-jung and Rhyu Si-min ― expressed their intent to resign from their posts, in an apparent attempt to provide closure to the intensifying factional strife over vote-rigging allegations.
But the committee meeting was soon disrupted by violent protests from mainstream party members, who opposed the formation of an emergency committee by pouring over the main podium, assaulting other members in the process.
The meeting was considered a crucial turning point for the embattled party, as it tried to break away from the factional impasse over alleged irregularities during the April 11 general elections.
The main proposals had included forming the emergency team to replace the leadership and having the contentious proportional lawmakers-elect renounce their win to take responsibility.
The mainstreamers, also known as the “National Liberation” group led by Lee Jung-hee, have been refusing the proposals, calling foul on the internal investigation.
The UPP, which rose to become the third-largest political bloc in the 19th National Assembly with 13 seats, is now heading to a point of no return as factional strife reached a new low, observers said.
“The interests of each faction aside, (the collision) could be seen as an act that gravely damaged the progressives of Korean politics,” said Yoon Pyung-joong, a politics professor at Hanshin University.
The UPP, in the meantime, opened an online forum on its website on Sunday and decided to vote on pending issues from Sunday evening.
Signs of a clash at the committee meeting were visible, as placards denouncing Cho, who led the party’s internal investigation that found irregularities in the selection of the proportional representative candidates, were hung at the meeting venue in KINTEX, Ilsan.
The clash occurred when Sim, who presided over the meeting, tried to proceed, only to be bombarded by angry party members who called the central committee meeting invalid.
During the scuffle, the former leaders including Cho and Rhyu were reportedly assaulted as they tried to defend themselves from the angry crowd.
After more than 9 hours of confrontation, Sim eventually announced at around 11:30 p.m., “As it is no longer possible to carry on a meeting, I hereby announce an indefinite suspension of the meeting,” which again was met by a violent response from the party members.
The UPP kicked off in December last year upon the union of three liberal parties ― the Democratic Labor Party, the People’s Participatory Party and a defector group from the New Progressive Party.
“This is such a great embarrassment. This is something that should not happen in democracy. We will continue to work on clarifying the truth before the people and take thorough responsibility,” said co-spokesperson Chun Ho-seon, who comes from the People’s Participatory Party.
However, another spokesperson Woo Wi-young, from the mainstream faction, said, “(The clash) was a result of (the central committee leadership) denying the justifiable protest by the committee members.”
Progressive political pundits also raised voices of disappointment.
“The progressive of the Republic of Korea has died today … It is hoped that the new progressive can resurrect over the dead body (of old progressives),” Chin Jung-kwon of Dongyang University said on his Twitter account.
By Lee Joo-hee (email@example.com