Rep. Tae Yong-ho stepped down Wednesday from his leadership position in the ruling People Power Party amid political scandals involving one of his staffers and a senior presidential secretary.
The resignation comes less than two weeks since the scandals first broke and about two months since Tae -- the first North Korean defector to be directly elected into South Korea’s National Assembly -- was chosen to serve as part of the People Power Party’s leadership at the March 9 party convention.
In a surprise press conference, the lawmaker apologized for the “recent controversies” and the “trouble (he) caused” to the people, the party and its supporters and the Yoon Suk Yeol presidential office.
“Today, I am resigning from the party supreme council, and I take full responsibility for all of the controversies,” he told reporters.
“I’ve come to the decision after deliberating that I didn’t want to be a burden to those around me and the party leadership,” he said. “I am reminded of all the support that I was blessed to receive over the party convention and I weighed my decision until this morning.”
Last week, a press leak of a recording of a private conversation that took place at Tae’s office alleged the presidential office was putting pressure on ruling party leaders.
In the recording, the lawmaker tells his staffers that a senior secretary for Yoon took issue with the ruling party leaders’ failure to respond to the opposition Democratic Party of Korea’s criticisms of the president’s foreign policy stance on Japan.
“The senior secretary asked me why no one on the Supreme Council was commenting on the Democratic Party attacks on Yoon over South Korea-Japan relations,” Tae says.
The Democratic Party slammed the leaked conversation as evidence of the Yoon office seeking to use his party to promote the administration’s interests.
In a separate development, allegations surfaced earlier this week that Tae’s office, over the course of his general election campaign back in 2020, hired the children of acquaintances as interns.
The Democratic Party reacted to the scandals surrounding Tae with calls for him to step down from not only the ruling party’s leadership but also his position as lawmaker.
“Perhaps Tae was able to get away with bootlicking the Kim regime in North Korea, but in South Korea, you have to respect the people and not just those with power,” Democratic Party Rep. Park Yong-jin said. He added that Tae keeping his seat as lawmaker was a sign of “disrespect to the people.”
Rep. Kwon Chil-seung, the Democratic Party chief spokesperson, claimed that Tae leaving his post may have also been orchestrated by the presidential office.
At Tuesday’s plenary session, Democratic Party lawmakers pressed Tae to leave the Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee of which he is part, saying his presence “hurts national interest.”
The People Power Party was due to convene an ethics committee late Wednesday to decide on possible disciplinary measures against Tae and another one of its Supreme Council members, Kim Jae-won. The decision was not yet finalized as of press time.
Kim was suspended as Supreme Council member for a month until late April over making controversial remarks. He had said he was opposed to enshrining the “spirit of the May 18 uprising” -- a 1980 movement against the country’s military dictator rule -- in the Constitution.