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[Newsmaker] Lee quits race, refuses to return funds

Lee Jung-hee
Lee Jung-hee
Former presidential candidate Lee Jung-hee and her leftist party are coming under increasingly heavy fire from the conservatives over the issue of the government election subsidy.

Lee’s minority Unified Progressive Party has received 2.7 billion won ($2.5 million) from the government following her candidate registration in November.

Although Lee is no longer in the race, having withdrawn her candidacy Sunday saying that she was stepping down for “the public’s desire for administration change,” the party has made it clear that the money will not be returned. The UPP said that the matter would be processed “according to law.”

Under the local regulations, which the Saenuri Party had pushed to revise early on in the campaign period in an apparent attempt to hamper the formation of a progressive coalition, a political party is not legally required to reimburse the funds even if its candidate withdraws before the votes are cast.

For its stance on the subsidy, the UPP has once again come under fire from conservative non-governmental organizations.

On Monday an association of conservative organizations, some of whom had opposed UPP lawmakers taking office, have called on the party to return the money, threatening to conduct a campaign for the UPP’s dismantlement if the demands are not met.

Although Lee had less than 1 percent approval rating as a presidential candidate, she stole the center stage from the main candidates during the Dec. 4 televised debate.

During the debate, Lee pushed Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye into the corner with a series of sensitive questions concerning the conservative candidate’s past.

At the time, Lee stated “I am here to make sure candidate Park Geun-hye loses (the election),” prompting predictions that she would not see the campaign to its conclusion.

Lee and her party are not new to controversy. Aside from accusations that the UPP follows the North Korean regime, the party was involved in a major scandal after the April 11 general elections.

At the time two lawmakers ― Reps. Lee Seok-ki and Kim Jae-yeon ― were accused of violating the Public Official Election Act. The developments led to those even within the party to call for their expulsion, which was ultimately overruled, and a mass resignation of its senior leaders.

By Choi He-suk (