Conflict within S. Korea’s ruling party reaches stalemate

The Yomiuri Shimbun

SEOUL — Opposing forces within South Korea’s ruling party are deadlocked as Lee Jun-seok, the former leader of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), has publicly blamed South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s poor approval rating on his lack of leadership and criticized Yoon’s close aides by name.

On Saturday, Lee, 37, said the views of Yoon and his aides are “totally out of line with what most of the people want,” an unusual criticism by a former leader of the ruling party. “The public mind has become alienated from the president. His leadership is in crisis,” Lee said, questioning Yoon’s qualifications at a press conference held at the National Assembly.

Lee also took aim at Yoon’s close aides, who are vying for leadership within the party. He slammed a group of aides close to the president, including floor leader Kwon Seong-dong, who is a former prosecutor like Yoon, and lawmaker Chang Je-won, saying they were “incapable of running a political party or a state.”

A native of Seoul, Lee majored in computer science and economics at Harvard University and ran a venture company. Pledging to break with “old politics,” he is regarded as a symbol of generational change.

Lee became the PPP’s leader in June last year after gaining popularity among men in their 20s and 30s, from whom conservative parties had difficulty winning support.

Last month, Lee was suspended from the party for allegedly trying to destroy evidence in relation to a sexual bribery case, and then lost his leadership post.

It is believed Yoon and his aides were not comfortable with Lee, as they had clashed repeatedly over election strategies and policies, although Lee is somebody they can rely on to garner votes in elections.

Some observers said Lee’s suspension from the party reflected Yoon and his aides’ opposition to Lee’s insistence on reform in the nomination of candidates for the general election in two years’ time.

In a survey by Gallup Korea released on Aug. 12, Yoon’s approval rating was at 25%, an unusually low level for an administration just three months old. This is partly due to the intraparty conflict.

The predicament facing the Yoon administration and the PPP is expected to continue growing, as it is unlikely that they will recover their political momentum even by cutting off Lee.