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Cho Kuk’s nascent party makes waves

The criminally convicted ex-minister’s political debut interpreted as personal vendetta, observers say

By Kim Arin

Published : April 10, 2024 - 21:37

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Cho Kuk smiles during an election watch event at a National Assembly conference hall on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Cho Kuk smiles during an election watch event at a National Assembly conference hall on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The nascent party formed and led by Cho Kuk, who was the former Minister of Justice for President Moon Jae-in's Democratic Party of Korea, appeared to stand out in Wednesday’s National Assembly election, possibly securing unusual success as a third party, as suggested by exit polls.

Cho’s party, whose official English name is Rebuilding Korea Party, was anticipated to earn by far the most seats among several third parties that popped up ahead of the election over the past few months.

The party was anticipated to gain at least 11 to 12 seats, according to the most conservative estimates available as of press time, of all as proportional representation.

The anticipated figure was almost as many as the 13 proportional representation seats that the People Party, which was helmed by two-time presidential candidate Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, in 2016.

The Rebuilding Korea Party, composed mostly of figures once affiliated with the Democratic Party, has campaigned on carrying out the reform initiatives to “punish” the Yoon Suk Yeol administration. The party, which paints itself as being “more reformist” than the Democratic Party, accused the incumbent conservative administration of being “anti-democratic” and “dictatorial.”

In what is seen as a victory statement issued at 7:37 p.m., less than two hours since ballot count began, Cho said the support his party has received was “the people’s message” to Yoon.

“The people have won. The people have spoken,” he said, adding that his party’s success was “the people’s message to the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.”

“The real winners tonight are the people, who decided that they can no longer put up with Yoon’s dictatorship,” he said.

The former justice minister called on Yoon to apologize before the people.

“We ask of Yoon to humbly accept the results of this Assembly election and apologize for his numerous mistakes and failures,” he said. “Over the last two years under Yoon, people’s livelihoods were destroyed. Our democracy and relations with foreign countries were destroyed.”

Cho then said as soon as the next Assembly begins, he would push a special counsel investigation against Han Dong-hoon, who was made the ruling People Power Party leader in December. He claimed the ruling party leader used illicit means to get his daughter accepted into prestigious universities -- the same accusation that Cho and his wife had been sentenced to jail for.

In the second trial in February, Cho was sentenced to two years in prison for cheating to help his children gain admission to universities, and for interfering with an internal probe into a close aide of then-President Moon while he was a senior presidential secretary. This means he will most likely have to go to jail during his term as a lawmaker unless a higher court overturns the ruling.

Cho’s debut in politics has been interpreted as a personal vendetta by observers. Yoon and Han were prosecutors who led the criminal investigations into the former justice minister and his family.

Moon, speaking to reporters after casting an early vote Friday, endorsed Cho’s party as a “party that shows how angry the people are at the current political landscape.” “This election must serve as a teaching moment for the Yoon administration,” the former president said.

Rep. Woo Won-shik, the four-time lawmaker with the Democratic Party seeking a fifth term this election, told reporters during a watch event at a National Assembly conference room Wednesday that Cho’s party “seems to have gained an edge as a result of a public confidence in a liberal victory.”

“The spirit of solidarity among the so-called Democratic Party bloc appears to be what worked,” he said.