President Yoon Suk Yeol threads through the packed indoor venue for a ceremony, shaking hands and greeting participants. One of them, a lawmaker, holds the president’s hand for a few seconds like many Koreans do when greeting each other, and tells him that he must change the way he runs state affairs. The president moves on to others, but Rep. Kang Sung-hee of the minor opposition progressive Jinbo Party keeps repeating something at him, video footage from Thursday shows. Members of the Presidential Security Service immediately surround Kang, lift him up by the arms and legs and carry him out. One of the agents covers the lawmaker’s mouth.
The presidential office told reporters that Kang was yelling as he was shaking Yoon’s hand and even pulled it toward himself, and the PSS took action according to their security protocol.
A PSS official told The Korea Herald that the agents, whose sole mission is to protect the president, judged it to be a threatening situation and employed a technique to separate the president from the lawmaker, according to their manual.
“There were no impromptu decisions involved; everything we did on that day including the covering of his mouth was in compliance with the manual,” he said, adding that details of the protocol cannot be disclosed for security reasons.
Considering that the incident took place a little over two weeks after the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck by a man who approached him asking for an autograph, it is understandable that the PSS was on its highest alert.
There is also a similar precedent. At the funeral of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun in May 2009, then-opposition legislator Baek Won-woo yelled, “get (him) out of there,” as he walked toward then-President Lee Myung-bak and called on Lee to apologize. PSS agents immediately surrounded Baek, covered his mouth and dragged him away. Roh had taken his own life amid a prosecution probe into corruption allegations implicating his family.
But last week's episode carried greater significance, given the events before and after.
Rep. Kang’s Jinbo Party said the PSS “violently put Yoon's reign of terror into action.” Lawmakers of the Democratic Party, including Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Kim Young-joo, slammed the PSS’ response as “an act that trampled on and ignored the authority of the legislature, which represents the people.”
The ruling People Power Party went all out to shield Yoon’s office, criticizing Kang as impolite and saying the president had even asked the legislator to let go of his hand as he had to greet others too.
Then came another shocking piece of news Sunday evening that corroborates claims that Yoon has little respect for his own party, let alone the legislature. Senior members of Yoon’s office and the People Power Party met with the ruling party’s interim leader Han Dong-hoon on Sunday and suggested he resign. Han, a former prosecutor who investigated high-profile cases alongside Yoon, had served as Yoon’s justice minister until he took the helm of the party less than a month ago.
Despite his moniker as “Yoon’s avatar,” Han recently expressed a slightly different stance from Yoon’s office on hidden camera footage allegedly showing first lady Kim Keon Hee accepting a designer handbag worth 3 million won ($2,240) from a Korean American pastor in September 2022. While Yoon’s office has kept mum on the video, which was released in November, Han said last week that there are “aspects (of the case) that the public would worry about.”
Han on Monday dismissed Yoon's request that he step down, saying his term will last until after the April 10 general election.
All of this is more dramatic than any Korean drama.
Yoo Seong-min, a former lawmaker of the People Power Party and a contender in the 2017 presidential election, called it “another dogfight,” slamming “prosecutors’ politics.”
Like Yoo said, the ruling bloc must put an end to the revolting power struggle, gather their senses and think about where the right path leads -- if they have even the least bit of respect for voters ahead of the general election.