[Editorial] PPP leadership race thrown into chaos by Yoon’s interference

Posted on : 2023-02-07 17:00 KST Modified on : 2023-02-07 17:00 KST
Whatever the election’s outcome may be, the proceedings thus far look uncomfortably like democratic backsliding
Candidates for PPP leader Ahn Cheol-soo (left) and Kim Gi-hyeon shake hands at a conference on Feb. 5 for members of the PPP living in Dongdaemun District held at the district office. (Yonhap)
Candidates for PPP leader Ahn Cheol-soo (left) and Kim Gi-hyeon shake hands at a conference on Feb. 5 for members of the PPP living in Dongdaemun District held at the district office. (Yonhap)

On Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol made clear his desire to put his handpicked candidate in charge of the ruling People Power Party. We’ve learned that Yoon has savagely attacked Ahn Cheol-soo, one of the leading candidates for party leadership, as “an enemy of my administration” and asked the party to send him a stern warning.

There’s little precedent for this kind of overt meddling in a party election at least since the presidency of Kim Young-sam. That’s also why Yoon’s behavior is being criticized as being historically regressive and a clear violation of party democracy.

Yoon’s remarks about Ahn over the past few days have been unusually harsh. Yoon said that Ahn’s reference to an “Ahn-Yoon coalition” was “extremely rude and over the line” and that Ahn’s use of an acronym referring to Yoon’s key allies amounted to “a direct attack on the president and an attempt to dishonor me.”

Yoon apparently uttered those phrases himself. He also sent his senior secretary for political affairs, Lee Jin-bok, to PPP interim leader Chung Jin-suk with a stern warning, remarking that Ahn was trying to drag Yoon into the party election.

But in fact, it was Yoon himself who first put his finger in the pie.

After basically tanking former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min’s leadership bid by completely basing the election results on party members’ votes, Yoon was surprised to see former lawmaker Na Kyung-won rise to the top of the polls. He managed to deflate Na’s balloon by resurrecting comments she’d made while serving as vice chair of the Presidential Committee on Ageing Society and Population Policy.

Next up was Ahn, who became the chief target of Yoon and his allies after he reached the top of the polls. As if that weren’t enough, lawmaker Lee Chul-gyu resorted to an ideological smear job by describing Ahn as “someone who respects communist Shin Young-bok,” and lawmaker Chang Je-won provided cover for Yoon by insisting that he “isn’t meddling in party business.”

On Monday, Ahn canceled his official events, apparently to collect his thoughts. That suggests he has eased off from his initial head-on approach of accusing the president of election interference.

While Ahn’s course of action remains uncertain, Yoon’s goal is gradually growing clearer. He’s taking the lead in clearing the way for lawmaker Kim Gi-hyeon to become head of the PPP.

Yoon apparently wants a PPP leader who won’t stoop to “internal sniping” as he accused former leader Lee Jun-seok of doing — in other words, a proxy who will faithfully carry out Yoon’s own orders in the party and in the National Assembly.

Shin Pyeong, the attorney chairing the committee backing Kim Gi-hyeon’s campaign, didn’t scruple to threaten that Yoon might leave the PPP. In short, the PPP’s leadership election has been thrown into pandemonium by Yoon’s manipulation, in blatant defiance of the principle of keeping the government and party separate.

Whatever the election’s outcome may be, the proceedings thus far look uncomfortably like democratic backsliding.’

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

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