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Lee Jun-seok breaks silence, encourages people to apply for party membership

Move seen as Lee’s effort to fight back against six-month suspension

July 12, 2022 - 14:50 By Ko Jun-tae
People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok moves to speak to reporters Thursday night after joining a meeting of the party`s internal ethics panel held to discuss penalization on him. (Joint Press Corps)
People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok broke his silence Monday evening to encourage people to register as new party members, in an apparent bid to grow his influence and build a foundation to stage a comeback to fight the suspension ruling handed to him by the party’s ethics panel last week.

“It is a good Monday to register as new party members,” the chairman wrote in a Facebook post at around 7:30 p.m. Monday. The message came hours after the ruling People Power Party decided to have Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, the party’s floor leader, be acting chairman while Lee is suspended.

The party’s internal ethics panel ruled early Friday morning to suspend the chairman’s party membership for six months due to allegations of sexual bribery leveled against Lee. The chairman has since stayed away from making any public appearance, seemingly to devise a strategy to respond.

He had vowed to fight the ruling with legal proceedings, arguing the decision was highly political and controlled by core members of the “pro-Yoon circle,” referring to those most loyal to President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Yet with the party sharply turning toward respecting the penalization and deciding to move forward with Kweon as its acting chairman, he went off the grid to reportedly hold meetings with aides, legal experts and other party members. He was not seen near his residence nor did he take any calls from reporters.

The social media message was interpreted as Lee’s decision to not immediately pursue legal recourse, but instead to grow his faction within the party by registering more members supporting him and thereby pressure the acting leadership to adhere to his calls and actions.

Meanwhile, the People Power Party suspended Lee’s corporate card with a monthly allowance of 20 million won ($15,200) from use as he has been temporarily ousted from the position. His immediate staff members’ corporate cards were also suspended from use.

Lee is reported to not have used the corporate card since Friday when the penalization was issued. But he is expected to pay 2.5 million won a month to the party as mandated by bylaws pertaining to those holding the chair seat.

Some party members have accused the pro-Yoon circle of strategizing to penalize Lee by using the ethics panel from early on, even before the presidential election in March. The ethics panel has consistently denied claims that it was controlled by the pro-Yoon circle in making the decision on Lee.

“During the presidential campaign, there were rumors that the pro-Yoon circle was moving to use the ethics panel to penalize him just like what happened Friday,” Kim Yong-min, a senior People Power Party official, said in a radio interview Monday.

“If someone actually orchestrated this, I can only think that politics is extremely brutal. Criticism of someone possibly being behind this turmoil is made after all of these (rumors and reports) are compiled.”

Kim analyzed that it was Lee’s continued move to overhaul nomination guidelines and bring systemized procedures in deciding flagbearers for elections that angered the pro-Yoon circle and many traditional heavyweights of the People Power Party.

Lee announced shortly after the local elections last month that he would launch a special committee to reestablish nomination guidelines for the next general elections in 2024. He also introduced an aptitude test for political and legal knowledge to test those seeking to bear the party’s flag as proportional representatives in the June elections.

“The reform committee kicked off, and what the chairman has always emphasized was systemized nominations,” Kim added in the interview.

When asked by the radio host whether the opposition came from worries that “too many people would fail to earn nominations if Lee Jun-seok holds control of nominations,” Kim replied: “I believe all of these factors are interrelated.”