Korean ruling party’s convention devolves into mudslinging contest

Posted on : 2024-07-08 16:47 KST Modified on : 2024-07-08 16:47 KST
A text message sent by the first lady is at the center of controversy in the race to lead the PPP
Candidates to lead the ruling People Power Party (from left to right) Han Dong-hoon, Yoon Sang-hyun, Won Hee-ryong and Na Kyung-won, take part in a party event held at the party’s headquarters in Seoul on July 5, 2024. (Yonhap)
Candidates to lead the ruling People Power Party (from left to right) Han Dong-hoon, Yoon Sang-hyun, Won Hee-ryong and Na Kyung-won, take part in a party event held at the party’s headquarters in Seoul on July 5, 2024. (Yonhap)

The People Power Party (PPP) convention is turning into a mudslinging contest amid controversy over Han Dong-hoon — a candidate for the party’s leadership, which will be decided in an election on July 23 — ignoring a text message from first lady Kim Keon-hee.

Observers within the party and beyond have been criticizing the convention’s degeneration into a squabble over a text message rather than a competition of visions and policies as the PPP selects its new leadership following a rout in the April general elections.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Han wrote, “Certain politicians, including members of the election management commission [for the PPP convention], are circulating a petition and putting together a press conference this afternoon to demand that I bow out as a candidate because I told [Kim Keon-hee] she should apologize publicly rather than through private channels.”

“I hope they just go ahead with it like last time, rather than getting spooked into rescinding the potential by public opinion,” he continued, adding that he intended to “overcome these outdated ‘circular’ practices.”

His remarks referred to a previous situation that occurred during the convention on March 8 of last year when 48 first-term lawmakers with the party’s pro-Yoon wing circulated a petition calling for lawmaker Na Kyung-won not to run.

The “withdrawal circular” that Han mentioned was launched in earnest after a town hall meeting on Saturday between candidates for the PPP leadership and the heads of the party’s external bargaining committee. Some of the committee heads reportedly called others that evening to inform them that a press conference would be held at 3 pm on Sunday to call for Han’s resignation, and to ask whether they would also participate.

One PPP-associated figure familiar with the situation said, “In common sense terms, I assumed that [Han ignored the text message from Kim] because she was his ‘old pal [Yoon’s]’ wife and the first lady.”

The same figure said the allegations of members of a particular camp calling for a press conference to urge Han’s withdrawal were “not true.” Ultimately, no such press conference was held on Sunday.

During an appearance Saturday on SBS, Han responded to the controversy over the text message by saying it was “very dangerous to give the impression of abnormal convention interference or interference in party affairs.”

In response, fellow party leadership candidate Won Hee-ryong said Sunday that “‘interference with party affairs’ was one of the charges listed when Park Geun-hye was impeached and sentenced to 30 years in prison.”

Arguing that Han was “crossing the Rubicon,” Won called on him to “make all the texts public.”

Also on Sunday, Na Kyung-won told reporters, “All I see is one [candidate] playing the victim and another attempting coercion,” referring to Han and Won. 

“It feels like we’re watching ‘Dumb and Dumber,’” she added.

Yoon Sang-hyun, another candidate for the PPP leadership position, similarly called for “restraint” from Han and Won.

In a commentary, Democratic Party spokesperson Hwang Jung-a said, “Is an apology from Kim Keon-hee alone going to make all the allegations of accepting a luxury bag, manipulating Deutsch Motor stock prices, preferential treatment with the Yangpyeong expressway, and plagiarizing her dissertation go away?”

“I hope the PPP is not trying to shift the essence of the Kim Keon-hee special prosecutor in a different direction through this whole ‘apology debate,’” she added.

Kim Bo-hyup, a senior spokesperson for the Rebuilding Korea Party, said, “Since [Kim’s text] was about follow-up measures regarding the Dior bag acceptance, I hope the PPP leadership candidates will start having a debate now over how to address that.”

By Shin Min-jung, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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