Lee Jun-seok leaves the National Assembly, Friday. (Joint Press Corps)
The ruling People Power Party has been left mired in confusion by its leader’s refusal to step down from his post despite the suspension of his party membership in connection to allegations of sexual bribery.
On Friday, the party’s internal ethics panel decided to suspend Chairman Lee Jun-seok’s membership for the next six months in connection to allegations that Lee received sexual favors as well as bribes from a business owner in 2013.
“Chairman Lee Jun-seok violated the ethics regulation of the party, which states party members should behave themselves, mind one’s words and actions and must not undermine the dignity of the party,” said Lee Yang-hee, chief of the internal ethics panel.
Kweon Seong-dong, the party floor leader and a close associate of President Yoon Suk-yeol, said the internal ethics panel’s decision was effective immediately, and that he would take on the role of acting party chairman.
While the unprecedented disposal of the party leader itself was shocking, Lee once again put his party in turmoil, saying he cannot accept the disposal.
When asked whether he is considering a withdrawal from his post on a radio show Friday, a few hours after the internal ethics panel had made its decision, Lee answered “I am not planning to.”
“The bylaws of the internal ethics panel state that disposition of a disciplinary action is up to the party leader,” Lee said. “I will put off the disposition for now as it is difficult to accept the disciplinary action.”
The party bylaws state that the chair must sign penalty decisions by the ethics panel, joined by senior party officials. They do not state how the penalty decisions should be processed if the chair is the subject of the penalty.
“I will take whatever action is needed, such as filing for an injunction or a reevaluation,” he said.
The party’s bylaws state that Lee can make an appeal against the internal ethics committee within 10 days of receiving the decision for disciplinary action.
Political heavyweight Yoo Seong-min, known to be close with the party leader, sided with Lee, and described the internal ethics panel and the pro-Yoon circle as “gangsters.”
“(The internal ethics panel) should have dealt with the matter based on fairness and common sense, but it did not,” he told the press at a book event held in Daegu on Saturday.
“The panel decided on heavy disciplinary action based on suspicion, without knowing the truth,” Yoo said. “This is like the acts of gangsters.”
“It is not that I want to take Lee’s side,” he said. “If there was any illegal wrongdoing, (Lee) should be punished by the law and it would be very difficult for him to continue his political life.”
Meanwhile, Lee shared a video of “Colors of the Wind,” one of the soundtracks in the 1995 Disney animation “Pocahontas,” through his social media account Friday. He offered no explanations in the post. In 2018, Lee also shared the song when he was going through conflicts with political big-name Ahn Cheol-soo.
Being pushed to the brink, Lee called for his supporters to join the party, hopefully to maintain his influence. Lee had risen to power -- elected as the party’s youngest-ever chair -- supported by men in their 20s and 30s.
“An online application is the fastest and easiest way to become a member of People Power Party,” he wrote on his social media. “With agreeing to pay 1,000 won ($0.77) per month for party membership, one will become a regular member in three months and can participate in the party’s decision-making process. It takes three minutes.”
Apart from the social media postings, Lee has been keeping a relatively sudued profile.
By Im Eun-byel (email@example.com