[Editorial] Internal strife
Ruling party chairperson disciplined for first time in Korea’s party history 
Published : Jul 11, 2022 - 05:31
Updated : Jul 11, 2022 - 05:31
The ruling People Power Party got engulfed in internal strife about two months after the launch of its new administration under President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The party’s central ethics committee decided Friday to suspend Chairman Lee Jun-seok’s membership for six months in connection with allegations that he instigated the destruction of evidence that implicates him in a scandal where a venture business owner bought sex for him, apparently as a bribe.

Lee has become the first-ever incumbent leader of a political party to be disciplined by his own party.

About a year ago, he was elected as the party leader at the age of 36, receiving praise as the youngest-ever leader of an opposition party. Now he has been disgraced as the first ruling party leader to be disciplined. He is unable to return to the duties of his post until January next year. His term as party chair ends in June next year.

Suspicions of the sex scandal involving Lee were first raised by YouTube channel Hover Lab in late December, which revealed evidence it received from a “protocol director” of the venture business. The informant claimed that he arranged for Lee to sleep with a sex worker in a hotel. The sex scandal dates to 2013, when Lee was a member of the emergency measure committee of the Saenuri Party, a forerunner of the People Power Party.

As this scandal broke out, according to Hover Lab, Lee’s aide, Kim Cheol-geun, met the informant in January and wrote the informant a signed memo promising to invest 700 million won ($538,000) in a medical clinic the informant designated. In return, Kim received a “fact confirmation memo” from the informant to the effect that no sexual favors had been provided to Lee.

The ethics committee deliberated whether Lee sent Kim on such an errand with the intention of destroying evidence. Whether Lee slept with a sex worker at a businessman’s expense was not under consideration.

Lee argued that he knew nothing about the memos, but the panel did not believe his explanation. The committee judged that Lee attempted to remove the evidence of his sex scandal. Kim argues his investment promise has nothing to do with Lee, but his argument defies common sense.

Kim may have been sent by Lee to meet the informant, but for now, that is subject to suspicion. Lee denies it, and the police investigation of this matter is underway. Be that as it may, the party’s ethics panel makes decisions from an ethical standpoint, not in terms of judicial judgment. Lee Yang-hee, the chairwoman of the committee, said that its decision against the party chairman followed ethical rules that a party member should practice good manners, behave appropriately to their status and avoid words and actions disgraceful to the party.

Lee railed against the ethics committee’s decision for being politically motivated. Lee and those on his side in the party hold to the theory that Yoon’s allies are plotting to take the party leadership from him.

He vowed to invalidate the committee’s decision by the authority of the party chair and request a court injunction and the panel’s reconsideration. He also invited people in their 20s and 30s, who form his support base, to join the party online. He may feel mortified, but it is nonsensical for a disciplined person to invalidate a disciplinary committee decision unilaterally.

Lee vows not to resign voluntarily, even as Floor Leader Kweon Seong-dong declares that he has become the acting chairman immediately. Chaos in the party leadership looks inevitable.

Few would look favorably on a ruling party buried in internal conflict while the nation’s economy faces such danger. Now is the time for everyone in the party to act with prudence and try to settle confusion quickly.

If Lee just holds out against the panel’s decision without presenting credible evidence, strife will only deepen. He must first accept the decision, then reflect on what made him come to this and decide which way to go. The police must finish their investigations into the scandal as soon as possible.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)