The minority Unified Progressive Party is facing growing calls for dissolution as its members including a lawmaker are under investigation on charges of plotting a pro-North Korea rebellion.
Conservatives demand the government forcefully disband the left-wing party, which would be the first such case since 1958, stoking a heated debate over democracy, freedom of political views and national security.
Rep. Lee Seok-ki and other ranking members of the UPP were arrested last week on suspicion of planning a revolt and forming a pro-enemy organization, which is punishable by death under the Criminal Act.
The ruling Saenuri Party filed a motion to expel him from the National Assembly and is calling for the government to request the Constitutional Court to consider UPP’s dissolution.
“The public’s opinion is that the UPP should disband voluntarily if the allegations are true. If not, then the government should demand the UPP’s dissolution,” Saenuri Party secretary general Rep. Hong Moon-jong said on Tuesday, citing reports that the majority of the Revolutionary Organization’s members are also members of the UPP.
|Members of a conservative non-governmental organization burn a banner carrying flags of North Korea and the Unified Progressive Party in Daejeon on Thursday. (Yonhap News)|
The revolutionary Organization is an underground antigovernment group Lee is alleged to have formed within the East Gyeonggi Coalition, which is Lee’s main support base. Lee is accused of instructing its members to arm themselves to support North Korea in the event of war.
The National Intelligence Service suspects that core members have been receiving instructions from Pyongyang.
On Thursday, unconfirmed reports have emerged saying that there may be as many as 40 incumbent public servants and school teachers in the group.
“We have confirmed that some of the participants were members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union,” an unidentified official was quoted as saying by the local media.
The KTU is a progressive teachers’ labor union that has some 400,000 members nationwide.
The Saenuri Party’s support for the UPP’s dissolution appears to have given momentum to the issue, and the Ministry of Justice recently launched a special taskforce.
The ministry’s assessment is still in the early stages, but some experts say that dissolving the UPP is not a simple issue.
Experts point out that in order for the party to be dissolved, it must be proven that the alleged anti-government actions were not those of Lee as an individual but were intrinsic to the party’s activities.
In addition, the lack of precedence since the Constitutional Court was established in the 1980s could weigh against the decision.
The only case of a forceful dissolution of a political party was in 1958, when the Progressive Party led by Cho Bong-am, a strong challenger to then-President Syngman Rhee, was dissolved after he was arrested on charges of espionage and violating the National Security Act. Cho, who had run for the presidency twice and served as an agriculture minister under Rhee, was executed the following year.
Meanwhile, conservative organizations have taken to staging rallies, one-man protests, and seminars to call for the removal of the minor opposition.
“The UPP’s doctrine can be summarized as the removal of U.S. Forces Korea, abolition of the National Security Act and reunification (of the two Koreas) through federalism. This is similar to North Korean propaganda,” judge-turned-lawyer Cha Ki-hwan said at a seminar on Tuesday.
“As (UPP’s doctrine) includes clauses that destabilize (South) Korea’s Constitution and national security, the party no long has any rights to be protected as a political party.”
The main opposition Democratic Party, which has been blamed for allowing the UPP to enter the National Assembly by forming the pan-progressive alliance in last year’s general elections, is monitoring the developments from a safe distance, saying that it is too early to discuss the matter.
“Isn’t the decision for dissolution made by the courts? The right thing to do is to leave it up to the courts,” DP chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil told reporters on Sunday.
Even if the minor opposition is dissolved, the status of UPP lawmakers will remain in question as related laws have no clear-cut measures regarding representatives of a dissolved party. The interpretations of related regulations as they stand vary from all concerned lawmakers losing their status to their remaining in parliament as independents.
In an apparent attempt to remove all elements related to Lee from the National Assembly, the Saenuri Party’s Rep. Kim Jin-tae is taking steps to revise the Political Parties’ Act.
“It is nonsensical for lawmakers to retain their position even if the Constitutional Court dissolves their party,” Kim told the local media on Tuesday, adding that he would submit the proposal in the near future.
Under current regulations, a lawmaker can only be removed from office when a motion for expulsion is approved by more than two-thirds of the assembly.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org