Reps. Ahn Cheol-soo and Chun Jung-bae, the two cochiefs of the opposition People’s Party, resigned from their posts Wednesday, assuming responsibility over the widening kickback scandal involving key party members.
“I resign from (party) leadership, taking full political responsibility over this case,” said Ahn in an urgent briefing that followed a closed-door Supreme Council meeting.
The other cochief Chun echoed Ahn, pledging to dedicate himself to the party and for the change of government next year.
The two’s decisions came in response to the ongoing prosecutorial investigation of the allegations that three party officials took illicit funds during the run-up to the April 13 general election.
Prosecutors arrested the party’s deputy secretary-general Wang Joo-hyun on Tuesday on charges of taking rebates from public relations firms during election season. Two of the party’s proportional lawmakers, Reps. Kim Su-min and Park Sun-sook, also underwent questioning for their alleged involvement.
The growing suspicions that party leadership had been aware of the illicit monetary transactions, as well as criticism of its inadequate crisis management, have been triggering calls for Ahn’s resignation.
Adding to the mounting pressure was the symbolic status of Rep. Park, who was not only the party’s secretary-general during the campaign season, but also one of the closest aides to Ahn. Their ties trace back to 2012 when Ahn made his bid in the presidential election as an independent candidate and Park served as chief campaign strategist.
“Politics is about taking responsibility, which is why I have always bore my due responsibility ever since I stepped into the political circles,” said Ahn.
“(But) the People’s Party will stick to its original intention and carry on its (political) path.”
Though he elaborated no more on his political plans, it was largely assumed that Ahn would now move his focus from party affairs to the forthcoming 2017 presidential race.
Faced by an abrupt leadership vacuum, the party is expected to switch into an emergency committee system and move up the date for electing a new leadership, which was slated for December or later.
With the two cochiefs out of the picture, attention was drawn to floor leader and fourth-termer Rep. Park Jie-won. Park joined the People’s Party after defecting from the main opposition The Minjoo Party of Korea in January this year. The defection of Park, a symbolic figure in the progressive Jeolla provinces, was considered to have dealt a significant blow to the Minjoo Party.
“Nothing has been decided, as it is the Supreme Council’s decision whether to establish an emergency committee or to elect a representative proxy,” Park told reporters after Ahn and Chun’s resignation announcement.
He also added that it was against party policy for the floor leader to take the chairman’s seat, dismissing speculations that he may rise to power.
Some suggested the party may choose to extend a hand to an outside figure for dramatic effect. Among potential candidates is Sohn Hak-kyu, former chairman and senior adviser of the Minjoo Party, who has recently hinted at a political comeback.
On Tuesday, before deciding to step down, Ahn and the leadership had announced that they would immediately suspend the disputed lawmakers if the prosecution decided to indict them. Pressure has also been building on the two to leave the party on their own.
Should the leadership remove them from their books, the two lawmakers would maintain their parliamentary seats as independent members, cutting down the party’s seats from 38 to 36.
But if they leave voluntarily, they will lose their proportional representative positions, allowing the party to hand over the two seats to others behind them in line.
“I delivered the message (to Kim and Park) asking that they leave voluntarily,” said floor leader Park in a radio interview Wednesday, shortly before Ahn and Chun’s announcement.
By Bae Hyun-jung(firstname.lastname@example.org