Yoon’s Intentions Dominate PPP Leader Candidates, While Principles and Fairness Are Applied Inconsistently
The controversy over President Yoon Suk-yeol’s intervention in the People Power Party (PPP) convention continues to spread. After the president referred to Ahn Cheol-soo, a candidate for the party leadership, as an “enemy” on February 6, the PPP leadership openly gave him a warning. The Office of the President said, “It is a factual problem, irrelevant with the party election,” but the presidential office is not likely to escape the criticism that they fueled the controversy over the president’s involvement by selectively mentioning party affairs to their advantage. Turbulence inside the ruling PPP is expected to intensify due to the pressure in a situation where “Yoon is the answer.”
A key official from the Office of the President met with reporters at the Yongsan office Tuesday and spoke on the controversy of the president’s involvement in party affairs. He asked, “We had to tell the people that such a union (which Ahn mentioned) did not exist, didn’t we?” and argued that the election could not be held based on information that was different from fact. In other words, he claimed that the president was only trying to verify the facts and did not try to intervene in party affairs. He made another attack on Ahn’s comment a day after Lee Jin-bok, senior secretary to the president on political affairs, asked Chung Jin-suk, chairperson of the PPP emergency response committee, to sternly warn Ahn on his mention of the “Yoon-Ahn union” and “Yoon’s key aides.”
The official mentioned that a party member was allowed to voice his opinions on party affairs and said, “The president pays (the PPP) a party membership fee of three million won a month. I’m sure the president also has something to say as a party member.” He implied that since President Yoon was also a member of the party, there was no problem with him exercising his influence in the party convention.
But opinions spoken by an incumbent president and a general party member have different political meaning and influence. In the past, party politics in South Korea tended to separate party affairs and state affairs and incumbent presidents refrained from speaking of party affairs to guarantee democratic governance in the party.
Last year, when internal strife reached its peak due to disciplinary actions against former party leader Lee Jun-seok, President Yoon drew the line saying, “It is inappropriate for the president to speak about party affairs.” In a press conference on the president’s one hundredth day in office, he also said, “I have never commented or expressed my position on the political statement of another politician.” President Yoon arbitrarily applied his principle to keep a distance from party affairs depending on whether it worked in his favor or not.
President Yoon will not be able to escape attacks that his criticism of Ahn was excessive in the way it was made, the details he spoke and the timing he voiced his opinion. The nation repeatedly witnessed the president attack party leader candidates who were not pro-Yoon through the Office of the President and close party members when the non-Yoon candidate was ahead in the race and observed as he tried to change the outcome by engaging in a blitz warfare, an all-out war against those candidates: former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min, former lawmaker Na Kyung-won, and now lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo. When Ahn took the lead in the race, the president attacked him as an “enemy” finding fault with his mention of the “Yoon-Ahn union” and “Yoon’s key aides.” The only explanation for why the president suddenly attacked comments he had no problem with in the past was that Ahn was ahead in the race.
Another problem is that the president’s criticism linked to the party convention only seems to land on “non-Yoon” candidates. The term, “Yoon’s key aides” was first used by pro-Yoon lawmakers. Previously, the president had a private dinner in his residence with Kim Gi-hyeon, known as a candidate supported by the PPP mainstream. Even when a pro-Yoon lawmaker openly said, “Yoon’s support is 100% on Kim,” the presidential office did not refute the statement or give a warning through the party leadership. Chung’s warning aimed at Ahn and the non-Yoon members did not include any warning or request for pro-Yoon members to refrain from controversial words and actions. The Office of the President argued that Ahn drew the president into the party convention, but in fact, it was President Yoon who personally stepped onto center stage.
That is why Ahn’s campaign raised an issue over fairness claiming that Kim Gi-hyeon also said that he was one with President Yoon. In an interview on MBC radio, former leader Lee Jun-seok said, “They themselves were proud of being ‘Yoon’s key aides,’ and now when the people criticize them, they’re claiming it is a derisive term,” and criticized the pro-Yoon lawmakers.
Ahn appeared on radio Tuesday and said, “The Office of the President’s involvement in the party election like this has many legal problems, and so must not occur.” The presidential office argued that the Public Official Election Act, which stipulates the obligation of a public official to remain neutral and which bans public officials from participating in primary election campaigns, only applies to the presidential election, parliamentary election and local election and does not apply to party conventions.
As Yoon’s intentions and the controversial issue of the president’s involvement in party affairs emerge as a key factor, the election to choose the future leadership of the ruling PPP has shriveled to one determining the success or failure of Yoon’s intentions. Chung Jin-suk attacked Ahn’s mention of “Yoon’s key aides” as “the same as spitting at the president,” and the ruling party leadership is moving like the 2nd squadron of the Office of the President. As the attacks by pro-Yoon members and the protest by non-Yoon members escalate, many experts expect the division of the PPP to reach extremes before the upcoming party convention, now a month away.
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