The Korea Herald


Politicians split over revival of controversial party district chapters

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 31, 2024 - 17:59

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Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon (Yonhap) Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon (Yonhap)

South Korea’s politicians on Friday remained divided on the issue of reviving party district offices, 20 years after they were shut down due to bribery and corruption accusations.

As the 22nd National Assembly kicked-off its four-year term Thursday, main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Kim Young-bae proposed a bill that would mandate the return of district offices, which were all shut down in 2004, two years after it was found they were abused in a 2002 political bribery scandal.

Ruling People Power Party Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, on the same day, also revealed plans to propose a similar bill that would support the re-establishment of district chapters.

The offices, which existed in all constituencies across the country, also had a notorious reputation for wasting money.

Regardless of their political affiliation, politicians either began voicing their support or denouncing the bills, following Thursday’s announcement.

Among the critics was Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who helped railroad the bill that amended the Political Parties Act in 2004 to mandate the shutdown of all district offices here.

“The aim of the (2004 amendment) was to reform the party structure which at the time was called a money-eating hippo due to its system with high cost (and low efficiency),” the conservative mayor said in a Friday Facebook post.

“The district offices in the past were hotbeds for power abuses by regional leaders. It was common for a big donor who made hefty donations to the district officers to become a local assembly member, and this allowed them to meddle in regional politics,” he added.

Another conservative politician, Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo echoed Oh, saying that the bill could bring back old ways of “political corruption.”

The latest buzz surrounding the district offices follows remarks by former People Power Party Interim Leader Han Dong-hoon and current Democratic Party of Korea Chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung voicing support for the system’s revival.

The supporters of the district offices claim that the revival could help the parties better cater to the voices of their voters in rural areas, while helping parties establish a stronger donation system.

The district offices were accused as a gateway and stops for illegal donations from conglomerates for the conservative Grand National Party, a predecessor of the People Power Party, during the 2002 presidential election here.