The ruling People Power Party (PPP) was set to hold an ethics committee meeting Thursday to discuss a sexual bribery scandal involving leader Lee Jun-seok amid speculation over whether he will be ousted as the leader.
The PPP's ethics committee is scheduled to meet at the National Assembly at 7 p.m. to determine whether and how to discipline Lee over the allegations that he received sexual services paid for by a businessman as a bribe in 2013 and attempted to cover up the case.
Lee, who has claimed innocence, is expected to attend the late night meeting to clarify his position.
The scandal is considered to be the biggest crisis yet for Lee, who won the PPP chairmanship last year and became the first person in his 30s to take the helm of a major political party in South Korea.
It is the first time in the party's history that a party chairman has been referred to the committee.
Any punishment stronger than a warning could imperil his political career and prompt the ruling party to elect a new leader, given that Lee's chairmanship is set to end in June.
The PPP runs a four-tier disciplinary system, which ranges from a warning to a maximum 3-year suspension in party membership, a recommendation to leave the party and an expulsion.
But even if the committee decides to take disciplinary action, it is likely that Lee will not succumb easily. The PPP chairman has stressed that he cannot accept any decision until an ongoing police probe is finalized.
The committee's decision is also expected to reshape the party's power structure at a time when Lee is embroiled in a power struggle over party leadership with a pro-Yoon faction of PPP lawmakers.
A decision to not punish Lee, meanwhile, is set to bolster Lee's party leadership and set him free from the allegations that have persistently dogged him since a far right-wing YouTube channel raised them in December.
The PPP chairman recently launched a reform committee in a move seen as cementing his leadership and gaining firm control of the conservative party against pro-Yoon lawmakers.
Considering that the ethics committee deferred a decision to take disciplinary action against Lee in June, it is widely expected that the committee will not delay the decision again.
Some, however, speculate the committee will take a cautious approach until the police probe wraps up given the gravity of the issue that will likely reshape the party's political fate. (Yonhap)