South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol returned to Seoul on Sunday to face a growing number of partisan challenges, in addition to criticism from the country’s main opposition party over the results of his summit with US President Joe Biden.
While Yoon was away in Washington, the leadership of the Democratic Party of Korea said the party would propose a bill regulating the role of a presidential spouse, in criticism of the first lady’s public appearances in the US.
“We need a bill that defines the appropriate scope of the activities of the president’s spouse,” Rep. Kim Min-seok, the head of the party’s policy committee, told reporters.
The Democratic Party, which holds the majority of the Assembly seats, has threatened to pass a motion to appoint a special counsel to investigate first lady Kim Keon Hee. Kim is under investigation by Seoul prosecutors for her alleged role in a stock price manipulation case from 2009 to 2012.
The series of moves targeting the first lady comes as the party’s current and former leaders are faced with legal troubles over their own corruption scandals.
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, current Democratic Party chair and Yoon’s rival in the 2022 presidential elections, is under investigation for allegedly soliciting bribes from companies to “sponsor” a city-run soccer club while he was the mayor of Seongnam. He is under separate investigation into allegations he handed out favors to select private investors with ties to him and his close aides in a real estate development deal, also during his time as mayor.
Song Young-gil, who headed the Democratic Party two years ago, is being investigated for allegedly distributing envelopes of money to fellow lawmakers in an apparent bid to improve his chances at the party convention in which he was elected chair.
Over Yoon’s six-day trip, the Democratic Party-led Nursing Act was passed amid resistance from the ruling party -- although under the Constitution, the conservative president would still have the power to veto it.
In a Feb. 17 closed-door briefing, a Yoon presidential official stated that the president may exercise his veto power when a legislative act is pushed unilaterally in the absence of bipartisan agreement or is deemed to drive national division or go against national interests.
The controversial law, welcomed by nurses but opposed by other health care workers including nursing assistants and doctors, leaves open the possibility for nurses to perform their practices independently the same way doctors do.
To protest the Act’s passage, a nationwide walkout is being floated by thirteen associations representing health care workers such as doctors, nursing assistants, emergency medical technicians, medical technologists, radiological technologists, dentists and elderly care workers.