President Yoon Suk-yeol sent a text message to the mobile phone of Kweon Seong-dong, acting chair and floor leader of the ruling People Power Party, mentioning suspended party chief Lee Jun-seok as the party chair who habitually “shot at insiders.” This means Lee caused an internecine strife. The message on Kweon’s phone was caught on camera by a reporter on Tuesday in the National Assembly.
When allegations involving Lee were scrutinized by the party’s ethics committee for disciplinary action, party members and supporters speculated what action Yoon wanted the committee to take. However, Yoon kept his hands off party issues.
On July 8 when the panel suspended Lee’s party membership for six months, Yoon kept a distance from the party, saying that it was not appropriate for president to mention its affairs.
But Yoon’s text message does not fit into his position of staying out of party affairs. The sincerity of his future remarks will likely fall under suspicion.
It is well-known that relations between Yoon and Lee were bumpy. Lee refused to work as party chair on two occasions when the party needed to rev up preparations for its presidential campaign. Lee abruptly canceled all his schedules and vanished to travel around provincial cities, with his mobile phone turned off. Even after the June 1 local elections, Lee’s collisions with “key aides to President Yoon” continued. Lee was hardly seen attacking the opposition party.
A senior presidential official said that he did not believe Lee would misunderstand the conversation, but Lee countered with indirect criticisms, using a Chinese idiom about a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He effectively revealed his discomfort with Yoon’s words. But Lee probably knows what consequences a response like that had for the party and himself.
Kweon apologized, saying it was entirely his fault to cause misunderstandings by exposing their private conversation carelessly.
As Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo said, the president of a country is a human being, too. The president can use such expressions in private conversations. If Yoon had known his words would be disclosed, he would not have uttered them. But still, the leader of a nation must try to be careful in what he says and does even when he or she is alone.
No matter how the incident happened, Kweon deserves criticisms for causing troubles to the party and the president. At present, he heads the party that takes responsibility for state affairs together with the administration. He should be careful not to make a mistake. Looking back, however, he made several errors.
He cut a deal with the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea on its bills that would strip prosecutors of their entire investigative powers, and then broke the agreement later as other members of his party and most people opposed the bills strongly. He apologized for his frivolous remarks in connection with the presidential office’s recruitment of a lowest-grade administrative staff member. Kweon stirred controversies by disclosing that he had recommended the recruitment. And he showed carelessness by exposing his private conversation with the president. His political sense and leadership are questionable.
The ruling party must prevent the incident from instigating an internal strife. The nation’s economic and security situations are too grave to waste time on feud within the party. The president, with much on his plate, must not be dragged into party political battles.
Though it was a private conversation, it was inappropriate for the president to send a text message that may give an impression that he intervenes in the affairs of the party. He must not repeat the same mistake.
By Korea Herald (email@example.com