NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] No. 3 party faces political isolation for frame-up

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 27, 2017 - 17:01
  • Updated : Jun 27, 2017 - 18:31
Pinched between the ruling liberals and their conservative rivals dividing the parliament almost evenly, the centrist People‘s Party has been seeking to expand its leverage by acting as a tie-breaking power group.

Contrary to its plans, however, the No. 3 party is now on the verge of losing its political momentum altogether over a manipulated election campaign scandal which may go all the way to the top.

On Monday, a party member confessed to fabricating a key allegation concerning the first son of President Moon Jae-in in the run-up to the May 9 presidential election.

Mindful of the gravity of the scandal, party leaders on Tuesday suggested a special investigation.

Park Joo-sun, interim leader of the People’s Party, apologizes over pre-election allegations surrounding President Moon Jae-in’s son, at the party’s meeting in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

“I believe that an independent counsel probe could be a solution, to look into Moon Joon-yong’s alleged employment favors and the evidence manipulation at the same time,” said Floor Leader Rep. Kim Dong-cheol at a party meeting.

“There has been an unpardonable manipulation of evidence but that does not mean that Moon should receive indulgence over his employment illegalities.”

The party on Monday issued an official apology for its member’s “manipulation” of allegations that Moon’s son received special favors when applying for a job at a public organization in 2006.

It also pledged to kick off an internal investigation body led by Rep. Kim Kwan-young, which will be operated in a separate track from the prosecution or independent counsel.

The disputed member, 37-year-old Lee Yoo-mi, was arrested late Monday night for allegedly circulating false information, therefore breaching the Public Official Election Act.

What further escalated the scandal was the widely spread suspicion, along with Lee’s claim, that the evidence tempering had taken place under the direct order of the party leadership

In a text message sent to a group of journalists Monday, Lee accused the party’s leadership of pinning the blame on rank-and-file officials.

“It was the party which gave orders but now it is seeking to hide the traces by expelling the involved officials,” Lee said in the text.

“I realized that the party would not look after its members. I am terrified that I may turn into a suspect, with no one to stand by my side.”

The leadership, however, distanced itself from Lee.

“As party chief and election committee chief at the time, I am sorry that such a thing happened at all,” Rep. Park Jie-won said Tuesday in a number of radio interviews, claiming to have had no knowledge over the issue back then.

Park also added that then-presidential aspirant Ahn was not aware of the frame-up scheme, cutting off the suspected connection between Lee and Ahn’s campaign headquarters.

No response has yet come from Ahn himself, who has been lying low since his defeat in the May presidential election. But calls are mounting within the political circles for Ahn to directly clarify his stance, especially as Lee was formerly his student back in the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology as well as a fervent supporter since his first presidential bid back in 2012.

While calls for Ahn’s official statement have been the strongest from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, there was complaint from within the People’s Party as well.

Rep. Lee Sang-don, a longtime political mentor to Ahn, said in a radio interview with CBS on Tuesday that Ahn should bear the political responsibility as the party‘s former chairman and presidential candidate.

(Yonhap)

The party’s reform committee chief Kim Tae-il also held a press conference to heavily blame the leadership for its complacent response to the scandal.

The hard-line conservative main opposition Liberty Korea Party, while consenting to the People’s Party’s call for an independent counsel to look into the case, denounced the minority party for breaking the public’s trust.

“(The People’s Party) kicked off about a year ago, claiming to achieve new politics but it failed to break away from old evils,” said spokesperson Rep. Kim Sung-won in a statement.

This stance was shared by Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, the newly elected chief of the conservative minority Bareun Party, who claimed that both the People’s Party and Moon’s son should undergo an investigation.

The progressive minority Justice Party, on the other hand, blamed the People’s Party for attempting to divert public attention away from its wrongdoings by mentioning a separate probe.

“(The People’s Party’s call for an independent probe) indicates that (President Moon and his son) are still at fault, and this is a clear disobedience to the presidential election result,” said Floor Leader Rep. Roh Hoe-chan in a radio interview with TBS.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has not made an official remark on the issue, claiming that it is for the president and his family to speak out.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)