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First-ever meeting of president, opposition chief set to finally happen

Major rivals to hold talks for first time since Yoon took office in May 2022

By Kim Arin

Published : April 26, 2024 - 17:26

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Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, told a party leadership meeting Friday he would meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol with no conditions attached. (Yonhap) Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, told a party leadership meeting Friday he would meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol with no conditions attached. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol and Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, have finally decided on a date for their first-ever meeting, after days of back and forth since the National Assembly election on April 10.

The Democratic Party said Friday Lee is set to speak with the president over tea at 2 p.m. on April 29, in what will be the first meeting between the two rivals since the Yoon administration took office nearly two years ago.

Lee’s chief secretary Rep. Cheon Jun-ho told reporters that the opposition chief would “use the occasion to convey to the president the people’s message as expressed in the results of the assembly election.”

The Democratic Party succeeded in maintaining its position as the party with the largest number of seats in the unicameral assembly in the April 10 election, having won 175 or nearly two-thirds of its seats. The ruling People Power Party won 108 seats.

The setting of the meeting date follows three days of working-level meetings, with disagreements between the two sides over the talks’ format and other details.

In the Democratic Party leadership meeting early Friday, Lee said that he would “put aside getting to details for the time being, and focus on sitting face-to-face with the president first,” hinting that the first-ever talks on April 29 might not be the last.

He added that he was willing to meet with the president “no conditions attached.”

Park Jie-won, the former National Intelligence Service chief who won a fifth term in this parliamentary election, said the meeting of Yoon and Lee should be more than a one-time effort.

In a Facebook statement on Friday, the senior Democratic Party lawmaker-elect said, “people would want to see the two leaders meet regularly, or more than a few times at least.”

He said both the president and the opposition chief “should not set the bar too high for their first meeting.” “Lee can bring up initiatives to be discussed on a more in-depth basis at a possible next meeting,” he said.

Yoon's ruling People Power Party is wary of Lee “turning the talks with the president for an opportunity” to push his party’s election pledge of distributing cash subsidies of 250,000 won ($181.69) per person.

“While we welcome the president’s meeting with the opposition leader, we cannot ignore widespread concerns shared by experts that the universal cash subsidies as proposed by the Democratic Party may prolong the inflation crisis facing our economy,” Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the ruling party floor leader, said.

Following the April 10 general election, the presidential office suggested this meeting last Friday.

In the 2022 presidential election, Yoon won against Lee by the thinnest margin in history of just 0.76 percentage points.