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Ruling party leadership poised to get overhaul, making Lee Jun-seok’s return unlikely

Pro-Lee faction pushes back

Floor leader and acting chair Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the ruling People Power Party attends a meeting of the general assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)
Floor leader and acting chair Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the ruling People Power Party attends a meeting of the general assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)

A growing wave of resignations at the top of the ruling People Power Party is setting the mood for a shake-up of leadership. The looming shift would leave out the party’s embattled chair Lee Jun-seok, who remains in exile over ongoing allegations that he accepted sexual favors and then tried to cover it up.

The party called a meeting Monday and reached a “nearly unanimous decision” to transition to an interim leadership. Following the meeting, the floor spokesperson Rep. Yang Kum-hee told reporters that “apart from a very few,” the majority within the party was on board with the overhaul in leadership.

The meeting took place after Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, the floor leader and acting party leader, offered to step down on Sunday, setting off talks of a switch to an “emergency steering” system until new leadership is installed.

Last week, Kweon found himself at the center of the latest political drama in Yeouido after his mobile phone screen showing text messages with President Yoon Suk-yeol were captured by a reporter’s camera during a National Assembly session on July 26.

In the leaked conversation, the president described Lee as “picking fights within his own party.” “Our party is doing well. It’s different now that the party leader has changed,” read the text messages from a sender whose name appeared as “President Yoon Suk-yeol.” Kweon has since apologized, saying he takes “full responsibility.”

The acting chair’s resignation comes less than three weeks since he has been filling in for Lee, who is barred from serving as the party chair for six months. Early July, the party’s own ethics committee suspended Lee’s membership after deciding that the allegations surrounding him and his response to them “damaged the party’s dignity.”

Aside from Kweon, a number of others have resigned or announced their intentions to do so in the span of past three days, among whom are members of the supreme council Bae Hyun-jin and Jo Su-jin.

Others classified as “pro-Lee” have decried the recent upheaval as “a ploy to throw Lee Jun-seok out.”

During a radio interview on Monday, Supreme Council member Jeong Mi-kyung accused the resigning leaders of “trying to kick Lee Jun-seok out.” “They are trying to cancel the Supreme Council as it is,” she said, claiming that it may be “close Yoon aides” who are behind the push for the purge.

In a separate radio interview on the same day, Kim Yong-tae, a youth member of the Supreme Council, called on Kweon to give up his posts completely, saying the series of resignations was “very wrong.” On a certain Facebook post from Lee, however, he said he hoped that the suspended leader “would refrain from provoking unnecessary controversies.”

Soon after the news of resignation on Sunday Lee wrote on Facebook over the weekend: “Aren’t these people like Gollum and Nazgul? They’ve lost their senses, blinded by greed for power. Keep crying ‘my precious.’ People are all watching.”

Gollum and Nazgul are characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.” Both become corrupted by their obsession with a powerful ring.

As the situation is unprecedented, some questions linger over the technical viability of such a change.

Daegu Mayor and longstanding People Power Party politician Hong Joon-pyo argued in a Facebook statement that an interim leadership could not take over unless the party leader, Lee, quits of his own accord. Lee was due to return to his position once his suspension expires in January next year.

The push for a reshuffle within the People Power Party’s leadership comes less than 100 days since Yoon has been in office. In a Gallup poll on Friday, Yoon’s approval rating plunged to 28 percent, far below the ruling party’s 38 percent.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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