Strife within S. Korea’s conservative party leads to disbandment of its election committee

Posted on : 2022-01-05 17:43 KST Modified on : 2022-01-05 17:43 KST
Kim Chong-in left his position as chair of Yoon’s campaign for president
Kim Chong-in, the general chair of the People Power Party’s election committee, takes questions from reporters while entering the party’s headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, on Tuesday. (pool photo)
Kim Chong-in, the general chair of the People Power Party’s election committee, takes questions from reporters while entering the party’s headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, on Tuesday. (pool photo)

People Power Party presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol took another step toward completely disbanding his election committee, including the removal of Kim Chong-in as its chairperson.

He aims to eliminate the committee entirely, leaving only a bare-bones control center to handle practical matters. The split comes a little over a month after Kim joined the committee in December.

“Yoon Suk-yeol is disbanding his election committee, and with the revision of the headquarters system, Kim Chong-in is being dismissed as chairperson as a matter of course,” an official with the party’s election committee told the Hankyoreh on Tuesday.

Yoon’s revision plan involves leaving only a minimal “practical” election headquarters, while dispatching previous committee officials around the country to work on shoring up grass-roots support. With the complete disbanding of the existing committee, the dismissal of Kim as chairperson came as a matter of course.

The fate of National Assembly member Kweon Seong-dong — a key associate of Yoon’s who has become a source of controversy — will reportedly be left up to Yoon. Kweon is currently serving as PPP secretary-general and chief of the election committee’s party affairs support headquarters.

The revised election committee plan proposed by Kim the day before would have amounted to an emergency committee, where key functions related to policies, political affairs, and press communication would have been integrated into a general situation headquarters directly under Kim.

Crucially, it would have involved disbanding the six-headquarter system — which had been the source of confusion in terms of policies and message — and placing its functions under the control of the general headquarters. This reflected concerns over Yoon making statements and discussing policies that had not been coordinated within the election committee.

But while Yoon acknowledged the need for reforms to his election committee, he expressed strong distaste at the idea of a system where the candidate himself did not exercise leadership, sources said.

In particular, Yoon reportedly took major issue with Kim’s actions the day before in bypassing the candidate to make his own announcement of full-scale changes to the committee, while asking Yoon to “simply perform” as the committee instructed. He saw this as crossing a line and dealing a potentially devastating blow to his own leadership.

Issues were also reportedly raised about the potential for Yoon to remain vulnerable to the Democratic Party’s accusations of him being Kim’s “avatar” or an “abdicated king” if he continued with Kim leading his camp.

Appearing on TBS radio Tuesday, Kim Yong-nam, a special press aide for the central election countermeasures committee, likened Kim’s committee reform announcement the day before to a “coup d’etat” and said that it would “have looked better” for Kim to have resigned.

Some questioned whether Kim’s departure would have any effect, noting that he had done little to clearly establish himself since joining the committee last month. Those in Yoon’s circle reportedly pointed out that despite being the person in command of Yoon’s election strategy, Kim had been attributing Yoon’s recent decline in support to the candidate’s own personal issues.

Another significant factor in the split concerns the two figures’ relationships with party leader Lee Jun-seok.

Whereas Kim stressed the importance of working with Lee as someone who enjoys strong support among men in their 20s and 30s, Yoon had expressed strong antipathy toward Lee, whom he reportedly said he “cannot work with.” According to this analysis, Yoon was unable to accept Kim’s demands for creating a “space” for Lee in the election committee.

Yoon also appears to have supported calls for him to show more of the “fire” he became known for in pushing back against the Moon Jae-in administration.

According to this view, the reason for the slump in his support has been his failure to show his trademark tenacity and perseverance — which means that he should be standing alone, rather than following every one of Kim’s directives. This suggests he has opted to go it on his own and take back the reins, despite concerns that removing Kim might cost him the support of moderate voters.

On Tuesday evening, Yoon summoned general situation headquarters chief Yim Tae-hee to his home in Seoul’s Seocho neighborhood to explain his plan, after which Yim visited Kim at his home to communicate it in turn.

Yoon planned to hold a press conference Wednesday morning at the PPP headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood to announce the election committee revision plan and his specific vision. The leader of the newly formed election headquarters was also to be announced during the press conference, sources said.

By Jang Na-rye and Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporters

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