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Ruling party leader quits after bitter loss, leaves room for political comeback

PM, Yoon's aides also offer to resign over ruling party defeat

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : April 11, 2024 - 15:23

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Han Dong-hoon bows as he announces his resignation from his position as chair of the People Power Party emergency response committee at the ruling party headquarters in western Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap) Han Dong-hoon bows as he announces his resignation from his position as chair of the People Power Party emergency response committee at the ruling party headquarters in western Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Han Dong-hoon’s 107-day journey as the ruling conservative party’s interim leader officially ended Thursday, after the People Power Party failed to take back the National Assembly through Wednesday’s parliamentary elections.

The 51-year-old prosecutor-turned-politician announced his resignation from his position as chair of the People Power Party emergency response committee, saying that he takes responsibility for the election defeat.

“The voice of the people is always right,” Han said in a press conference held at the ruling party headquarters in western Seoul on Thursday.

“I apologize to the people on behalf of our party, which was insufficient to receive the people’s choice. I take full responsibility for the election results and have decided to step down as chair of the emergency response committee,” he added.

Through Wednesday’s election, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and its satellite party won a total of 175 seats in the single-chamber, 300-member Assembly. The People Power Party and its sibling party secured a total of 108 seats.

When asked about his next step, Han replied, “I will continue to worry about my country wherever I go and whatever I do.”

But he indirectly expressed willingness to continue his political career by saying that he plans to “keep his promise,” referring to his earlier pledges to continue to pursue his goals in politics. In recent months, he has also mentioned plans to participate in and carry out charity work post-election.

Han was appointed as the ruling party’s interim leader in December last year, after former party chair Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon stepped down following a nine month tenure. Kim had expressed hope to fuel intra-party reform through his resignation at the time.

Prior to his entry into politics, Han served as Justice Minister in President Yoon Suk-yeol’s Cabinet from May 2022 to December 2023.

Earlier in the day, President Yoon's aides and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo offered to step down from their posts, as the vote count completed Thursday showed that the ruling conservative bloc took a landslide defeat in Wednesday's parliamentary elections.

According to a source from the presidential office who declined to be named, Prime Minister Han "verbally expressed his intention to resign" to Yoon.

Key aides who directly report to Yoon -- Chief of Staff Lee Kwan-sup and Director of National Policy Sung Tae-yoon -- also offered to step down.

So did all senior presidential secretaries: Park Chun-sup, senior secretary for economic affairs; Han O-sub, senior secretary for political affairs; Jang Sang-yoon, senior secretary for social affairs; Park Sang-ook, senior presidential secretary for science and technology; and Lee Do-woon, senior secretary for public relations.

Yoon in March accepted the resignation of Hwang Sang-moo, senior secretary for civil society, over controversial remarks in a private lunch meeting with reporters.

Chang Ho-jin, chief of the presidential National Security, will stay in his post, according to Yoon's office.

"President Yoon said he would humbly accept the election defeat and put in his best efforts to change course in national affairs and stabilize people's livelihoods," Chief of Staff Lee told reporters at the presidential office in Seoul Thursday.

The Yoon administration will closely coordinate and communicate with the opposition bloc for legislation related to people's livelihoods, according to the presidential office.