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Internal turmoil brews at major political parties in power struggle

Democratic Party prepares to elect new leader as ruling bloc’s fate depends on its ethics panel

Rep. Lee Jae-myung (left) of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea speaks at an event Thursday. People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok (right) speaks during a party meeting Monday. (Joint Press Corps)
Rep. Lee Jae-myung (left) of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea speaks at an event Thursday. People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok (right) speaks during a party meeting Monday. (Joint Press Corps)
Internal strife is continuing within South Korea’s ruling and main opposition parties as factions jockey for power.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is set to elect its new chairperson at the national convention scheduled in August and finally conclude the battle between supporters of Rep. Lee Jae-myung and those with close ties to former President Moon Jae-in.

From the pro-Moon circle, Rep. Sul Hoon expressed his intent to run for the chair, and Rep. Hong Young-pyo is also touted as a figure likely to run. Reps. Woo Won-shik and Jung Chung-rae are considered to be possible candidates from the pro-Lee circle, not to mention Lee himself.

Many within the political circle are attentive to whether Lee will declare candidacy for the chairperson post, which has been believed to be a crucial part of Lee’s expected roadmap to another attempt at the presidency.

Just as the role of chair of the party acted as the platform for Moon’s comeback after being defeated in the 2012 presidential election, Lee is believed to be eyeing the chairperson seat and lead the upcoming parliamentary elections to victory for him to win the nomination for the 2027 presidential election.

Many heavyweights within the pro-Moon circle have declared Lee should not run for the chairperson seat, arguing he is responsible for failing to win the presidential election in March and failing to lead the party to victory in the recent local elections.

Lee has not publicly expressed his intent to join the election but raised a comment possibly on how the rules should be set ahead of the national convention.

The Democratic Party’s current bylaws for electing its chair dictate that votes must be weighed by the following ratio: senior party members by 45 percent, regular members with voting rights by 40 percent, designated public opinion surveys by 10 percent and 5 percent to an opinion survey run on party members.

Pro-Moon figures have asked the proportions to stay the same, while Lee’s aides have asked the proportion of public opinion surveys to be raised at the cost of proportion for senior party members. But Lee seemingly overturned his aides’ calls to possibly asking for the bylaws to stay intact.

“A country is run by its people, and a political party is run by its members, which means it is important for opinions of members to be reflected inside a political party,” Lee said Saturday in a meeting with his supporters in Incheon. “It may be a problem if this obvious principle is not upheld.”

Lee’s comment is seen to be asking his aides to stop picking fights with other party members over bylaws, as the Democratic Party has already had enough fights unfold among its members to date.

The Democratic Party is to decide on the procedures to elect a new chairperson shortly after launching a special committee to prepare for the national convention.

Internal conflict is also apparent within the ruling People Power Party, as Chairman Lee Jun-seok faces possible penalization from the party’s internal ethics panel concerning sexual bribery allegations.

The ethics panel is expected to rule this Wednesday whether Lee Jun-seok would be penalized, which is believed to start an intense feud over who would replace him as the next leader of the ruling bloc and guide the party for the next parliamentary elections in 2024.

The panel can levy one of four penalizations – warning, party membership suspension, request to relinquish party membership and forced membership termination. Anything other than a warning is expected to cause intense turmoil among party members.

If Lee Jun-seok’s party membership is suspended, the ruling party would be prompted to run an emergency steering committee or face calls to elect a new chair earlier than scheduled. Lee Jun-seok has almost a full year left until his term officially ends.

It was reported that the ethics panel was divided over whether to penalize Lee Jun-seok for the allegations, as the police’s investigation into the case has yet to be concluded, and no concrete evidence has been uncovered.

Lee Jun-seok has firmly denied all allegations made against him, accusing the ethics panel of abusing its power to make a political decision.

If Lee Jun-seok is forced to step down from the chairman post before the end of his term in June 2023, strife is expected between close aides of Yoon and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo over who will succeed him as the next chairman.

The strife could negatively affect support for the party ahead of the legislative elections. The elections are a must-win event for the ruling bloc and the Yoon administration, as the National Assembly is currently dominated by the Democratic Party, which holds 170 out of 300 seats.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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