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'Despicable act of betrayal' — Democratic Party feud deepens after arrest motion approval

Ruling People Power Party takes a cautious approach, avoiding direct confrontation with its political rival.

Sept. 22, 2023 - 18:25 By Ji Da-gyum
Rep. Jung Chung-rae, a member of the Democratic Party's Supreme Council, speaks during a party meeting in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

Leading figures of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea lashed out at party rebels Friday, after the previous day's unexpected approval of a hearing on a warrant to arrest the party's leader, Lee Jae-myung.

The hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.

The result of the vote came as a shock, as Lee's party holds 168 out of the 298 seats in the National Assembly. The outcome suggests that dozens of Democratic Party lawmakers cast dissenting votes.

At the Supreme Council meeting, the party leadership on Friday primarily directed its efforts towards delivering a scathing critique against those who had cast dissenting votes the day before, rather than directing their attention toward the ruling People Power Party.

The Supreme Council members of the Democratic Party launched a blistering attack on fellow party members who voted in favor of the motion enabling Lee's arrest on charges related to corruption and third-party bribery.

Rep. Jung Chung-rae, a prominent aide to Lee and a member of the Supreme Council, likened the actions of fellow party members to a betrayal of their own party leader, drawing parallels to citizens who betray their own nation.

Jung referred to the anti-Lee faction as the "enemy" who committed a "despicable act of betrayal."

"Their involvement in a scheme led by Yun Seok Yeol's prosecutorial dictatorial leadership, targeting the removal of a political opponent and the suppression of our party, is an action we deem unacceptable," Jung said during the meeting. "We will take corresponding actions."

Rep. Park Chan-dae, another Supreme Council member echoed these sentiments, saying, "Party members and the general public are incensed by the outdated politics of betrayal and collusion."

"Hiding in anonymity does not absolve one of responsibility. The day of taking responsibility must come."

The Democratic Party has opted elect a new floor leader on Tuesday, aiming to reduce the leadership vacuum within the party and swiftly address any internal conflicts. The approval of the motion ultimately led to the resignation of the party's floor leader, Rep. Park Kwang-on, on Thursday night.

The party's election is set to take place on the same day as the scheduled arrest warrant hearing for Lee.

Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, leaves the Suwon District Prosecutors Office in Suwon, 30 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sept. 12, after facing hourslong questioning on allegations that he was involved in illegal money transfers by Ssangbangwool Group, an underwear manufacturer, to North Korea in return for his unrealized visit to Pyongyang in 2019, when he was governor of Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

The court's decision regarding Lee's detention is expected to be reached late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning at the earliest, assuming that the arrest warrant hearing proceeds as scheduled on Tuesday morning.

However, the situation remains uncertain, as Lee may not be able to attend the upcoming mandatory arrest warrant hearing.

Lee is hospitalized while continuing a hunger strike for the 23rd consecutive day, advocating for comprehensive government reform and the resignation of the entire cabinet.

Lee also issued his first statement Friday afternoon following the passage of the motion, emphasizing, "We must stop the rampant acts of the prosecutorial dictator government and regression while safeguarding livelihoods and democracy."

In accordance with the arrest warrant request submitted by Seoul prosecutors, Lee is involved in three distinct controversies: favoritism in development projects, significant fund transfers to North Korea, and coercing false testimony in an earlier trial.

The first relates to allegations he allowed private developers to profit improperly from a city project while he was the mayor of Seongnam.

In the second, prosecutors claim he used illegal means to pay North Korean authorities to organize his trip to Pyongyang while governor of Gyeonggi Province.

The last one relates to the trial in which he was convicted of impersonating a prosecutor.

The ruling People Power Party has taken a cautious stance on the issue, refraining from direct confrontation with its political rival. As of now, President Yoon's office has not released any statement regarding the approval of the motion.

Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the floor leader of the People Power Party on Friday called other members to keep their public remarks brief at the party's meeting.

The ruling party instead concentrated on conveying messages that called for the Democratic Party to return to the right path, without direct criticism.

"The approval of the arrest warrant motion for Rep. Lee Jae-myung yesterday underscores the solemn mandate from the people to the National Assembly, emphasizing the need to rebuild a deteriorating political environment by entrusting legal proceedings to the judiciary and prioritizing the welfare of the citizens," Yun said.

During the meeting, Rep. Park Dae-chul emphasized that the People Power Party's primary focus will be on "easing the hardships of the people, revitalizing the economy, and diligently preparing for the future."

"This is a crucial juncture for both the livelihoods of our citizens and the state of the economy in South Korea," Park said, "There is simply no space for hesitation."