Rep. Choe Kang-wook of the Democratic Party of Korea reports to the Seoul Central District Court in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Wednesday to appeal a possible violation of the Public Official Election Act. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party’s internal strife continues, with members polarized on the internal ethics panel’s proposal to suspend Rep. Choe Kang-wook’s party membership over sexual misconduct allegation.
The ethics panel ruled Monday to suspend Choe’s party membership for six months after he allegedly made questionable comments in an online meeting of party officials held in April. He reportedly used a slur that could be used to refer to masturbation when questioning why another legislator did not turn on his camera for the meeting.
The decision from the ethics panel sparked an intense debate over the direction the party should take to free itself from consecutive election defeats and loss of public support.
Park Ji-hyun, former co-chair of the Democratic Party’s emergency steering committee, welcomed the decision but said that the penalty should have been more severe. Showing that we will not tolerate offenses from our own members is a much-needed gesture for the party in trouble, she said.
“It’s relieving even though it’s late, and it’s welcomed even though it’s unsatisfactory,” Park said in a Facebook post Tuesday. “Rep. Choe lied, tried to hide that he made a problematic comment and committed a secondary offense that shows the punishment is not severe.”
Park additionally argued that the group of hard-line legislators classified as supporters of Rep. Lee Jae-myung should disband to let the party work in line with public opinion.
Choe is one of the leading members of the so-called “Churumhoe,” a group of first-term legislators with the Democratic Party who is classified as one of the loyal supporters of Lee and his bid for party leadership and presidency. The group has faced criticism for guiding the party towards “fandom politics,” which negatively affected the party’s chances of victory in recent elections.
“Starting with the penalization of Rep. Choe, the party must promise to sever ties with fandom politics and return to the people,” Park added. “A party swayed by violent fandom has no way to win the next legislative elections or the next presidential election.”
Park’s comments were met with strong opposition from the pro-Lee circle, which expressed concerns that Choe is overly penalized for a small mistake and that his removal from the party will negatively impact the party’s chances to run checks on the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.
“Penalizing Rep. Choe is a foolish decision as we are voluntarily removing a front-line striker in the fight against the Yoon Suk-yeol administration,” Rep. An Min-suk said in a Facebook post Tuesday.
“It is an extremely one-sided argument to ask for the Churumhoe to disband and make it seem like Rep. Choe and group are to be blamed for the local elections defeat.”
Rep. Woo Sang-ho, head of the Democratic Party’s emergency steering committee, said he and other committee members respect the decision from the ethics panel, asking party members to refrain from staging another internal power struggle.
“There is a belief that we may be seen as inadequate to our party members to start a feud over the decision,” Woo said in a committee meeting Wednesday. “While personal views may differ, publicly expressing them and making supporters fight among themselves should be avoided.”
Choe appealed the ethics panel‘s decision, saying he spoke a different word with similar pronunciation. He responded immediately after the case came to light that he was “merely joking.”
The ruling People Power Party was also planning to possibly penalize its Chairman Lee Jun-seok in concern of sexual bribery allegations. The ruling party’s internal ethics panel was scheduled to convene at 7 p.m. Wednesday to reach a decision on whether to penalize the chairman.
The penalization itself was expected to negatively affect the party’s leadership structure and hierarchy. If Lee Jun-seok was to lose his party membership, the party was widely expected to start a new race to find new leaders and set a new order of power.
It was speculated that the Democratic Party’s heavy penalization of Choe was an indirect message for the People Power Party to levy severe penalties on Lee Jun-seok in regards to the allegations.