(Left) President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea walks to the podium to deliver an address at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology on Jan. 5. (Right) Han Dong-hoon, the interim leader of the ruling People Power Party, heads into the party’s office in Seoul on Jan. 22. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)
Responding to the presidential office’s demands for his resignation, People Power Party (PPP) interim leader Han Dong-hoon said on Monday that the terms of his appointment “extend through the general election.” Finding himself embroiled in a direct conflict with Han, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol abruptly canceled his attendance at a town hall on public livelihood issues only 30 minutes before it was scheduled to start. Yoon is reportedly mulling over the developments.
With just over 70 days until the general election, some within the PPP and the Yoon administration are calling for an end to the internecine conflict before it spirals out of control. Yet staunch Yoon supporters aren’t backing down in their demands for Han’s resignation. Facing its first clash of power since Yoon took office, the administration and the ruling party are torn between self-destruction and reconciliation.
When asked whether he’ll complete his term by reporters while on his way to the National Assembly on Monday, Han responded that he will act as the party’s interim leader until the general election in April, quipping, “The people come before my private affairs.” The evening before, Han vowed to “do [his] job and fulfill [his] duty to the Korean people” when addressing reports that the presidential office had demanded his resignation. Han’s remarks on Monday confirmed his refusal to acquiesce to Yoon’s demands.
On Sunday, Lee Kwan-sup, Yoon’s chief of staff, met with PPP floor leader Yun Jae-ok and Han to protest the latter’s nomination of Kim Kyung-yul, a member of the PPP emergency leadership committee, to run in Seoul’s Mapo B district. Lee also took issue with Han’s response to a scandal involving allegations that the first lady accepted a luxury handbag, and communicated Yoon’s demand that Han step down.
In response to comments by reporters that some see the demand for Han to resign as excessive interference in party affairs, the PPP’s interim leader said, “As I have rejected the request for me to step down, I cannot discuss the details,” explicitly acknowledging the presidential office’s push for his resignation.
Regarding the allegations that first lady Kim Keon-hee acted inappropriately by accepting a luxury handbag gifted to her, Han told reporters, “My position has been consistent from the start.” Last month, he had suggested the allegations might be part of a “hidden camera sting,” but, on Thursday and Friday, he referred to them as a “question that needs to be considered from the public’s perspective.”
That morning, shortly after Han refused to tender his resignation, the presidential office announced that Yoon would not be attending a public forum on the livelihoods of the people, a mere half an hour before the event’s scheduled start. While Yoon's non-attendance was attributed to a “slight cold,” some speculate that his ongoing conflict with Han may have influenced this decision.
The presidential office has not issued any additional comments regarding Han’s decision not to resign, maintaining their previous stance that “the chairmanship of the [PPP’s] emergency leadership committee is not a matter for the presidential office to intervene in.” Similarly, lawmakers aligned with Yoon have refrained from any public statements or actions.
People Power Party interim leader Han Dong-hoon listens as participants speak at a meeting of the emergency leadership committee on Jan. 22, one day after the presidential office reportedly asked for Han’s resignation. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)
However, there is a growing sense of unrest within the dominant faction of the ruling party.
“We need to convene a general meeting of PPP lawmakers and demand that Han resign. We are gathering the opinions [of lawmakers],” one Yoon-aligned lawmaker suggested. “This is not an issue that Han will be able to ride out. [President Yoon] has already given up [on Han].”
Another Yoon-aligned lawmaker remarked, “Han was appointed by the president, but now that [Yoon] has withdrawn his support, how long can he hold out?”
Although some PPP lawmakers have called for an emergency party caucus, floor leader Yun Jae-ok is reportedly advocating for a wait-and-see approach over the next few days.
Nevertheless, there are concerns that a direct clash between Yoon and Han could become a liability in the upcoming general election, leaving open the possibility for reconciliation. An official from the presidential office remarked, “Shaking up Han’s chairmanship of the emergency leadership committee would amount to overturning the election results [that brought him to that position],” adding that there is still a possibility for reconciliation.
Another official noted, “While Han may have gone too far with the Kim Kyung-yul issue, our priority should be to prevent anything that could work against us going into the election.”
By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter
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