NATIONAL

Ruling party swiftly cuts ties with An accused of sexual assault

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Mar 6, 2018 - 18:07
  • Updated : Mar 6, 2018 - 18:07
A sexual assault claim against former South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung is causing a major uproar in the political circle and the public, prompting quick actions from the ruling party to minimize the fallout from its prominent figure as it faces local elections in June.

The governor’s secretary Kim Ji-eun on Monday revealed that she was sexually assaulted by the provincial governor, who was a former presidential contender for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, in a televised news interview with local broadcaster JTBC. 

Rep. Nam In-soon (center) of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea expresses regret over An's sexual assault allegation, at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The governing party moved swiftly to expel An and stripped him of his membership on Tuesday, cutting ties with An.

“As the leader of the party, I apologize to all. We have decided to revoke his membership,” the party’s Chairwoman Rep. Choo Mi-ae said. In a Facebook post, she also expressed strong determination to root out sexual crimes, saying she was embarrassed to face her two daughters.

The party leadership canceled all of their regular schedules Tuesday. An internal task force against gender violence also denounced the governor, urging for a thorough investigation into Kim’s claim and other possible cases Kim had hinted at during the interview.

As An, 52, had said he would not seek a third term in the upcoming local elections slated for June 13, prospects were high that he would run in the by-election to enter the National Assembly and possibly become the ruling faction’s next leader. He was often mentioned as the next presidential candidate of the ruling party.

The sexual assault revelation is likely to deal a heavy blow to the ruling party, sparking concerns that the incident could undermine the party’s overall support rating.

The accusation against An already appears to be having repercussions for the Democratic Party’s hopefuls.

Park Soo-hyun, a close friend of An who also served as his spokesman, announced that he would stop all of his electioneering for the governor position, expressing regret over the misbehavior of “his friend.” Park had stepped down as the presidential spokesman to run for the South Chungcheong governor position.

Four-term lawmaker Rep. Yang Seung-jo, who also has his eyes on the post, postponed a press conference on regional affairs, but said he would continue to make efforts to compete in the race.

Meanwhile, opposition parties furiously attacked An and the Democratic Party.

“Embarrassing incidents are occurring in the left wing. With stronger #MeToo movement, I wish for more of the left-leaning figures to be raided,” Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said Tuesday.

“If the ruling Democratic Party wants to become free of its reputation as a party plagued with sexual assault, it should not nominate anyone for South Chungcheong Province (in the upcoming local election),” spokesman Rep. Jang Je-won of the Liberty Korea Party said Tuesday.

“It is disgusting to see the two-sides of An, supporting the #MeToo movement and sexually attacking his aide at the same time.”

The conservative party also said severing ties with An is not the solution, adding An’s case shows the liberal faction is “collectively hypnotized.”

The minor opposition Bareun Mirae Party also criticized An and suggested conducting a special probe into the case.

On Tuesday morning, An posted a statement on his Facebook account, apologizing for his misconduct and overturning his previous position that the sexual relations were consensual.

Some 10 provincial officials also stepped down from their positions, taking responsibility for not taking proper actions for Kim.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)