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Will Yoon meet with Democratic Party leader?

Yoon talks with Lee over phone, but remains cautious on in-person meeting

President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol is taking a cautious stance in meeting with newly elected Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung, which could be portrayed as a meeting between an unpopular president and a fresh opposition leader riding high on popularity. However, critics say the meeting could help Yoon create new momentum in state affairs and secure opposition support ahead of the regular session of the National Assembly.

Lee became the head of the opposition party by winning a landslide victory with 77.77 percent of the votes in the party’s fifth regular National Congress on Sunday. In his speech, Lee said he would ask for a “party-leader meeting” with Yoon and reach a solution together. He again proposed to meet with the president officially the following day.

If the meeting is held, it will be the first time for the two to come face-to-face since the March 9 presidential election.

But the presidential office remains somewhat cautious. Although the office has said the door to dialogue with the opposition party is “open” at any time, it has not offered any specifics.

Instead, Yoon and Lee had a phone call, the presidential office said Tuesday. In a three-minute phone conversation, Yoon congratulated Lee on winning the election and said, “If there’s anything I can do to help you carry out your party leadership position, I’ll help you too. We ask for bipartisan cooperation in the legislation of the people’s livelihood,” according to the presidential office in a written statement.

As to Lee’s offer to meet, Yoon suggested “a meeting with the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties” when the ruling party “stabilizes,” the office said.

The presidential office sees no need to create a rematch structure with Lee, who is enjoying massive popularity at a time when Yoon’s approval rating is low due to diverse controversies surrounding Yoon and his wife.

The office also does not like to use the term "party-leader meeting.” In the past, when the president was also head of the ruling party, a meeting between the president and the leader of the main opposition party could be referred to as a "party-leader meeting.” But the presidential office sees the term itself as old and political because the president and the ruling party leader are now separated.

"Unlike in the past, the roles and responsibilities of the president and the ruling party representative are strictly separated, so it is not realistic to propose the meeting," an official from the presidential office said on condition of anonymity.

Some critics say it is still necessary for Yoon to meet with Lee -- whether it is only the two of them or with others present if necessary -- to show the public that the government is cooperating with the opposition party at a time when bills for people’s livelihoods are piling up at the parliament and politicians are preoccupied in a power struggle.

Political commentator Park Sang-byoung said a meeting between Yoon and Lee could be a win-win situation for both.

“For Lee, he can send a message to the public that he has broad political power by reaching out to the president to cooperate in state affairs as an opposition party leader,” he said. “It will be an opportunity for Lee to raise his status as an opposition leader.”

“For President Yoon, it can be a turning point for the government to create new momentum through cooperation with the opposition leader at a time when Yoon’s approval rating is low,” he said.

Political critic Jang Sung-cheol said in a radio interview that Yoon should meet with Lee to lay the political foundation for what he should achieve during the regular parliamentary session.

The first regular session since Yoon took office begins in early September, but the ruling party is expected to face difficulties in dealing with pending bills as it continues to struggle with its internal feud for power and the parliament is dominated by the opposition Democratic Party.



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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