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[Editorial] Perils of party politics

People Power Party’s internal feud lays bare incompetence ahead of presidential election

The main opposition People Power Party is facing the specter of a rudderless ship beset with internal rivalries, a precarious condition ahead of the presidential election slated for March next year.

On the surface, the internal feud broke out between People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok and the campaign committee’s public relations chief Rep. Cho Su-jin. At a deeper level, the confrontation lays bare the opposition party’s shaky leadership riddled with arrogance, selfishness and outsize desire for power.

The two politicians exchanged verbal attacks during a closed-door meeting Monday over the party’s response to allegations against Kim Keon-hee, wife of the party’s presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol.

Lee had asked Cho to handle press reports attacking him and Kim Chong-in, head of the campaign committee, in relation to the ongoing dispute, but Cho refused, saying she would only take the orders of Yoon.

Cho’s response enraged Lee, a standing co-chair of the campaign committee. In terms of the party’s organizational hierarchy, she was supposed to follow his order, since her public relations team belongs to the campaign committee, not a separate unit under the direct control of presidential candidate Yoon.

The initial verbal clash soon led to another more serious conflict late Monday, as Cho shared a link with several reporters to a YouTube video questioning the sanity of Lee. The party chairman called on her to resign from the position, holding her responsible for the KakaoTalk message sent to reporters.

Cho apologized, but Lee did not recognize her gesture. On Tuesday, Lee announced he would quit all his positions in the party’s presidential campaign committee. Later in the day, Cho also offered her resignation from the campaign committee.

The internal feud seems to have settled down with the two key players removing themselves from the campaign, but the damage they have left behind is deep and painful. As for the latest spat, there are three aspects to consider for party leaders and the public.

First, the public witnessed further evidence that the leadership of the main opposition party is in utter disarray, even at a time when all party members should cooperate against the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to win the presidential election.

Yoon, strangely enough, did not step in to resolve the conflict, even though it was initiated over the party’s conflicting responses to his wife’s alleged misdeeds.

Yoon was quoted as saying “That’s democracy” in response to Cho’s refusal to follow Lee’s order. Some critics claim Yoon would not listen to any critical opinions about his wife within the party. If true, the public will question Yoon as a qualified presidential candidate, as leaders are required to pay attention to diverse views -- including bitter criticism.

Second, something should be done about the bloated presidential campaign committee. The committee expanded in size without working out specific rules and order, partly because both senior and rank-and-file members at the party have rushed to join the organization in hopes of securing higher positions should the People Power Party win the election.

Campaign committee head Kim Chong-in told Yoon that he would take a firm stance and get the committee to move forward. It remains to be seen if Kim can bring some order into the rivalry-laden party.

Third, Lee, the party’s chairman, should mull over his whimsical and emotional behaviors that are not fitting for his lofty position. He is supposed to set a proper example as a thoughtful politician with insightful vision and deep patience. Contrary to the high expectations, Lee keeps picking a fight with party members especially when his self-esteem is challenged, revealing his vulnerability.

If the People Power Party fails to shape up in time, it will face the consequences in the forthcoming election. That’s democracy.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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