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Democratic Party split over Assembly speaker candidate

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 17, 2024 - 16:21

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Main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung (left) speaks during a meeting with Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Woo Won-shik, after Woo was elected as the sole candidate for the next National Assembly speaker, in western Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap) Main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung (left) speaks during a meeting with Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Woo Won-shik, after Woo was elected as the sole candidate for the next National Assembly speaker, in western Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap)

A rift opened up Friday between supporters of the new National Assembly speaker candidate and Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Woo Won-shik and those close to main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung.

The “pro-Lee” faction of the opposition party took issue with a party vote held the previous day, in which Woo was elected the sole candidate for the next Assembly speaker. In the process, Woo, who is known to have relatively moderate political views, defeated Rep. Choo Mi-ae, a six-term lawmaker from the same party considered a close aide to Lee.

Several pro-Lee main opposition lawmakers on Friday called for the party leadership to reveal the number of votes Woo received, by posting requests on bulletin boards on the Democratic Party’s official website, in protest of Thursday’s announcement. Other Lee supporters denounced the result of the vote.

Democratic Party Rep. Jung Chung-rae, a member of the party’s Supreme Council and known as one of Lee’s closest aides, apologized to party members who had supported Choo.

“I apologize for the members of the party and supporters (of Choo) who were hurt (by the latest intra-party election results),” Jung said in a party leadership meeting held Friday.

“Please join us on the road toward (bringing about a change to the current Yoon Suk Yeol administration) and not leave the party or decide to part ways with us,” he added, pointing toward main opposition lawmakers who warned they would leave the party due to Woo’s victory.

In response to Jung’s remarks, Woo expressed regret, saying that it was “inappropriate” for a member of the supreme council “to speak in such a manner,” in a Friday radio interview.

He said that Jung apparently attempts to “divide” the party through his remarks.

Observers were divided on Thursday’s election results, with some claiming that it was a sign of silent protest against Lee’s monopolization of power in the party, while others brushed off the latest conflict.

“From Lee’s perspective, Choo’s rise to power as Assembly speaker could make her a possible rival for the 2027 presidential election here,” political commentator Lee Jong-hoon said.

“(The latest election results) could be part of Lee’s plan to turn people’s minds off the view that he is monopolizing the party,” he added.

On Thursday, Lee told Woo, in a meeting held after the announcement of election results, to adopt a mind "focused on the hearts of the people rather than upholding a machine-like moderacy."

Woo replied that he would do his best to carry out the responsibility and the authority of the Assembly speaker.

As the sole candidate for the Assembly speaker position, Woo is expected to replace the current Speaker Kim Jin-pyo. The winner of the election will officially take office following a separate election involving all incoming lawmakers during a plenary session. The schedule for the plenary session where the election will take place has yet to be announced.

Though there are no such rules here, it is customary for the speaker to be elected from the largest party in the Assembly.