The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea on Monday demanded that President Yoon Suk Yeol replace his entire Cabinet, starting with Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup, who the party is accusing of being behind the alleged cover-up of the death of a marine soldier in July.
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party’s chair who is on day 12 of his hunger strike against what he calls “Yoon's tyranny,” said in a statement released Monday that the president, by refusing to fire his national defense chief over the accusations, was “defying the Korean people’s will.”
Citing the arrest warrant request submitted to the military court, he claimed that the Navy canceled the July 31 press briefing on the late soldier and instead held a closed-door meeting with the defense minister. The Democratic Party, which controls the National Assembly majority, believes that the defense minister was attempting to downplay the death of the soldier, who was found dead 14 hours after going missing while on the search and rescue operation during a deadly downpour on July 19.
“Yoon, by deciding not to dismiss the minister accused in such a serious case, has proven that the president himself had orchestrated the coercion by the ministry,” he said.
He said that the Democratic Party would adopt an impeachment bill for the defense minister as part of the party's platform at the general meeting of the entire party slated for Tuesday. Tuesday is also the day the opposition leader is due to appear before prosecutors in an investigation into allegations he had his office pay North Korean authorities to organize his Pyongyang trip while serving as the governor of Gyeonggi Province.
This is not the first time that the main opposition party had pushed to impeach a member of the conservative administration’s Cabinet. In September last year, the party used its majority in the Assembly to pass a bill asking the president to remove his Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin over the leak of an audio recording in which Yoon allegedly spoke about US President Joe Biden. In February, the party also passed an impeachment bill for Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min -- which the Constitutional Court eventually rejected -- over a crowd crush disaster in Seoul’s Itaewon.
Rep. Han Ki-ho, the chair of the Assembly's national defense committee, said in a phone call with The Korea Herald on Monday that the Democratic Party was “abusing its Assembly majority” to impeach Cabinet members “somewhat irresponsibly.”
“Impeaching a Cabinet minister, especially the chief of our national defense, is a matter that requires a thorough deliberation,” he said.