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Suspension of ex-chief, Daegu mayor lifted in ruling party's unity driveBy Son Ji-hyoung
Published : Nov. 2, 2023 - 15:30
South Korea's ruling People Power Party on Thursday approved a plan to lift the suspensions of four party members, including outspoken dissenters former party Chairman Lee Jun-seok and Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo.
The decision, effective immediately, enables the individuals to become eligible to run for a parliamentary seat as a member of the ruling party in the upcoming general election scheduled for April 2024.
Lee had been imposed with a suspension from party membership for 1 1/2 years by the party's ethics committee over allegations of a sexual bribery case and an attempted cover-up. The suspension of Lee -- depriving him of the right to take part in a party convention either as a voter or a candidate -- would have been effective until January 2024.
Lee was leading the ruling party when Yoon Suk Yeol, then a political novice, ran for president and ultimately won in 2022, but Lee has repeatedly clashed with Yoon and his aides since.
Hong, a former presidential candidate of the party who lost to Yoon in a primary, was suspended for 10 months in July after he was revealed to have played golf while the nation was affected by torrential rains. No casualties were reported in Daegu, but nationwide 48 were killed, with five missing.
Along with Lee and Hong, three-term lawmaker Rep. Kim Jae-won and Kim Cheol-geun, a former aide to ex-Chairman Lee, were also granted amnesty.
Notably, Rep. Kim was slapped with a one-year suspension in May over controversial remarks at far-right gatherings, where he voiced opposition to having the spirit of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising in 1980 enshrined in the Constitution. Likewise, the former aide was revealed to have played down the significance of the Jeju Uprising and massacre in the late 1940s.
Both Hong and Rep. Kim's suspension would have been in effect until May 2024.
The decision was earlier recommended by the party's internal innovation committee led by former physician John Linton, also known as Yohan Ihn.
"The past decisions by the ethics panel deserve respect given they were based on reasonable grounds, but the recommendation by the innovation panel to have us united as one big party must also be respected," Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the party's chairman, said in a meeting Thursday.
"We might have some dissenting opinions, but my opinion is we should embrace the faithfulness behind the partywide innovation and accommodate the value that the innovation committee pursues."
This came despite internal opposition from the party.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, a three-term lawmaker, has proposed to expel ex-Chairman Lee from the party. On Tuesday, Ahn claimed that some 41,000 signatures have been collected calling on the party to kick out the outspoken former chairman. Ahn also said Tuesday that "the decision-maker will bear the responsibilities" if forgiving Lee leads to an unfavorable outcome in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, more of the measures to overhaul the People Power Party are coming their way.
Ihn said in a radio interview Wednesday that the innovation committee is mulling over plans to stop a lawmaker from representing the same constituency three straight terms, and to ditch parliamentary privilege from arrest, among other reforms.
The People Power Party is now in emergency mode after its substantial loss in a Seoul district office chief by-election last month, in what was considered a litmus test of voter sentiment. Then-People Power Party Secretary-General Rep. Lee Chul-gyu -- considered a key figure in the pro-Yoon faction -- stepped down after the appalling defeat by 17 percentage points.
But Lee, one of eight nominated officials of the party who resigned following the loss, was named to lead the process of recruiting candidates for the general election on Thursday.
This led to another row of internal opposition. Rep. Kim Woong blasted the party's decision to rehire Lee, saying it shows "disrespect to voters" by declaring that only pro-Yoon yes-men can survive.
Even though the party lifted the suspension of his party membership, ex-chairman Lee expressed disappointment that the party is "trapped in prejudice" and the decision appeared to be a cover for reinstating pro-Yoon figures to the party's leadership position less than a month after the by-election loss.
Via social media on Thursday, Hong referred to a Chinese proverb to say he would never forget "the humiliation of crawling between the legs" in his mistreatment by the party.
Before the announcement, Hong said he did "not want the party's clemency," adding the humiliations he suffered at the party's hands "has already alienated him from Chairman Kim and his aides a long time ago."
Articles by Son Ji-hyoung
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