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[Editorial] Absurd hunger strike

Opposition leader makes irrational demands in tug-of-war with prosecution

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 4, 2023 - 05:30

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Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung's hunger strike is irrational and unjustifiable.

He suddenly declared he would go on an indefinite hunger strike on Thursday, just a day before the National Assembly opened its regular session.

Whenever he opens his mouth, out come concerns about the livelihoods of the public. But in the Assembly, where the party he leads holds a legislative majority, he behaves like he does not care.

The demands he made are absurd. He demands three things from President Yoon Suk Yeol and his administration: an apology for wrecking the livelihoods of people and damaging democracy; a declaration of opposition to the discharge of treated wastewater from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the filing of a related lawsuit with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; and a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle.

Lee said he was risking his life to prevent the Yoon administration from destroying democracy, but he and his party are the problem. On the back of its majority, the Democratic Party rammed through unreasonable bills for Yoon to veto. Meanwhile, the party has neglected about 200 government-proposed bills.

The opposition lawmakers prevented the possibility of Lee being detained as a suspect by voting down a government request for the Assembly's consent to his appearance at a pretrial detention hearing. Lee vowed to abolish the privilege of lawmakers being able to avoid such hearings, then he took advantage of it.

The party's claims about the release of the Fukushima wastewater are not based on science. They try to incite people with scary stories that exaggerate health risks. When the opposition party was in power, the Moon Jae-in administration did not clarify its opposition to the wastewater discharge, but now the party demands the Yoon government openly oppose it.

An opposition party leader going on hunger strike to demand a Cabinet reshuffle is a strange and unconvincing act.

It is also hard to accept Lee playing tug-of-war with the prosecution over a summons to appear before the prosecution. That is seldom something ordinary people can get away with.

In connection with investigations into underwear maker Ssang Bang Wool's allegedly illegal transfer of cash to North Koreans to facilitate Gyeonggi Province's North Korea projects when Lee was its governor, the prosecution summoned him to appear in its office on Aug. 30, but Lee refused, citing his full schedule.

The prosecution summoned him again for an interview scheduled for Sept. 4. Lee agreed, but later his spokesperson said he would be available only in the morning and that he could arrange for an additional interview. The prosecution rejected Lee's offer to split the investigation.

Lee talks of state violence and a political offensive by the prosecution. He defines the prosecution's investigations into his alleged illegalities as political suppression. He pretends to be a scapegoat, but the pretense is unconvincing.

It is not difficult to guess the real reasons he went on hunger strike. He wants to get through his political crisis, which stems from investigations into allegations against him. His hunger strike is intended to impede the investigations, block a pretrial detention hearing -- the prosecution is expected to request the Assembly's consent to such a hearing -- and calm anti-Lee complaints within the party.

There are many things that need doing during the last regular session of the Assembly before the general election. In addition to processing bills, a parliamentary inspection into government agencies is scheduled. Lawmakers should also handle the government budget for next year.

The allegations against him are not related to the party, but Lee has used the party to protect himself from investigations. He has effectively privatized the party.

Few would sympathize with his unjustifiable hunger strike. He must return immediately to the Assembly.