Minor parties are struggling with criminal allegations just as the parliament looks set to resume normal operations.
On Friday, Lee Yoo-mi, a rank-and-file member of the People’s Party, was indicted on charges of fabricating evidence to smear President Moon Jae-in’s son during the presidential election.
Lee was found to have fabricated evidence, including a voice recording, to back the allegation that Moon’s son Joon-yong was unfairly hired at a public agency with the help of his father.
With a former member of the party’s supreme council, Lee Joon-seo, also under arrest, the possibility of party leaders becoming implicated is growing.
“If the party is found to have intervened in the fabrication, I will lead the breakup of this party,” interim chief Rep. Park Joo-sun had said after the scandal broke out last month.
Rep. Hwang Young-cheul of Bareun Party (Yonhap)
Rival parties harshly criticized the party’s leadership, claiming the party leadership is trying to avoid responsibility over the incident and are trying to cut ties to the rank-and-file members.
The former chief and presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the 40-member People’s Party had apologized over the party’s fabricated smear campaign on Wednesday. He said he would take both political and moral responsibility, but the party’s approval rating fell to the lowest among the parties in the Assembly.
As the People’s Party faces the biggest crisis of its short existence, a heavyweight of the conservative Bareun Party has come under the scrutiny of the authorities.
The Chuncheon District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday summoned Bareun Rep. Hwang Young-cheul over his suspected breach of the Political Fund Law. He is suspected to have spent 200 million won ($176,000) from the salaries of his aids.
The prosecution said he was investigated over whether he had ordered his secretary, only identified by her surname Kim, to collect the money to cover the office operating expenses. The 56-year-old secretary was arrested last month.
The prosecution suspects that the three-term lawmaker had also used the money for personal uses, including is private trips.
Hwang is reported to have denied the charges, saying Kim had acted independently.
If convicted, Rep. Hwang will lose his lawmaker status, as the law stipulates. This would cost the Bareun Party much of its influence, as it would take the number of lawmakers below the quota needed to register as a negotiation body at the National Assembly.
Obtaining the negotiation body status in South Korean parliament means the party is eligible for state subsidies and is given the power to reflect opinions on the operation of the parliament. The party members can also participate in the special committees.
There are currently four political negotiation bodies -- ruling Democratic Party of Korea, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, People’s Party and Bareun Party. The progressive Justice Party also holds six parliamentary seats but is not registered as a negotiation bloc.
The two minor opposition parties currently have less than 10 percent of an approval rating in polls. The centrist liberal People’s Party garnered 5 percent in the latest poll by Gallup on released Friday, as Bareun Party posted a slightly higher rate at 9 percent.
The ruling Democratic Party leads the list with 49 percent, as the main opposition Liberty Korea Party follows along with its conservative rival at 9 percent.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)