The controversy surrounding the lawmakers-elect of the Unified Progressive Party boils down to two questions. One is whether the party’s proportional lawmakers-elect who were selected through fraud-ridden primaries should resign or not, while the other is if it is acceptable for North Korea sympathizers to become lawmakers.
The first question is not so difficult to answer. A majority of party members and ordinary citizens outside the left-wing minority party rightly think that they should step down because they were chosen through defective procedures.
But the mainstream faction, which is suspected of having manipulated the primaries, has consistently rejected the prevailing view, insisting that the primaries were not as badly rigged as the party’s investigation team had made people believe.
The faction, called the National Liberation group, even had the temerity to use violence against three of the party’s co-leaders in an ill-advised bid to fend off pressures for the resignation of two of its lawmakers-elect ― Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon.
The physical assaults triggered a chorus of condemnation from all sides. Both supporters and critics of the progressive political party denounced the use of violence as a negation of democracy.
Regarding the fate of the two proportional lawmakers-elect, Rep, Kang Ki-kab, chairman of the UPP’s emergency leadership council, suggested the party might evict the two, if they refuse to step down on their own.
But eviction does not deprive a proportional lawmaker of his parliamentary seat; he loses his seat only when he defects from his party. This means that under the current law, there is no way to rectify the outcome of a fraudulent primary at a political party. This is not acceptable in a democratic society. Hence, political parties should revise the election law to empower the National Election Commission to correct malpractice within political parties.
Meanwhile, the violence perpetrated by the NL faction did an excellent job of exposing its true colors. It triggered intense media scrutiny, which highlighted the problem of pro-North Korea activists becoming lawmakers.
According to reports, the group’s leader, lawmaker-elect Lee, was arrested 10 years ago for his involvement in an underground pro-North Korean organization, dubbed the People’s Democratic Revolution Party, which pursued the construction of a socialist state in the South. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison in March 2003 but was granted a special pardon that August. He was freed without declaring conversion away from the North Korean “juche” ideology.
The faction’s other lawmakers-elect, six in total, including the four elected from local districts, are all imbued with the juche ideology and sympathetic toward North Korea. In fact, the group’s pro-North Korea attitude was the main cause of the split of the Democratic Labor Party in 2008.
A faction called People Democracy, which founded the party in 2000, seceded from it and set up the New Progressive Party just because it was sick and tired of the NL’s identification with the Pyongyang regime.
As the May 30 opening of the 19th National Assembly approaches, the prospect of North Korean sympathizers becoming lawmakers is looming larger, causing concern among leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party.
The concern is justified, as lawmakers have access to confidential government information. For instance, members of the Assembly’s National Defense Committee can access sensitive information regarding the joint military strategies of South Korea and the United States.
Saenuri’s new chairman, Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, said his party would see if legal measures were available to prevent some of the UPP’s lawmakers-elect, especially Lee, from becoming members of parliament.
But under the current law, it is virtually impossible to deprive a lawmaker-elect of his parliamentary seat for ideological reasons, even if he is indoctrinated with the juche ideology.
This means the pro-North Korea NL faction will be able to secure a firm foothold in the National Assembly, a disturbing prospect indeed as it would strengthen North Korea’s hand vis--vis the South. The ruling and opposition parties should find a way to prevent this from becoming a reality.