UPP fights off dissent, asks candidates to step down

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UPP fights off dissent, asks candidates to step down

Despite the violent resistance of mainstream members, the Unified Progressive Party leadership agreed to pressure all proportional candidates elected in the primary vote-rigging scandal in March to step down.

The UPP leadership convened a closed online meeting Saturday night with 28 national committee members after a faction of the party physically blocked entrance to the National Assembly and instigated brawls during earlier sessions.

In the online meeting, the leadership unanimously agreed to pass a bill requesting that all 14 proportional candidates who won their candidacies in the primary step aside.

Public furor over the liberal party’s proportional primary rigging scandal escalated and the party leadership publicly announced that it would take responsibility. However, some party members contested the proposition that all 14 elected candidates should resign, as a powerful inner-circle faction is likely trying to protect its members among the lawmakers-elect.

At the center of the controversy are the so-called Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance members, who were student activists hailing North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology in the 1970s and 1980s and known as National Liberalization (NL) faction. This mainstream faction insists that they cannot trust the party’s internal probe into the primary rigging, affirming that the party is trying to politically attack them.

However, other members of the UPP demanded that all of the elected proportional candidates and the leadership step down and take full responsibility for the manipulated election.

The UPP leadership and party members held an 18-hour-long meeting starting on Friday afternoon that was frequently suspended and resumed as clashes broke out between the mainstreamers and other groups. Curses and violent brawls continuously interrupted the meeting; co-chair Lee Jung-hee abandoned the scene at around 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Rhyu Si-min, another co-chair of the party, tried to resume the meeting, which was broadcast live to the public, but party members continued to take part in brawls.

When the party leadership tried to resume the meeting at the National Assembly on Saturday afternoon, members of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance blocked the entrance to the assembly room. Rhyu, a non-Gyeonggi Dongbu member, held a closed online meeting with the party’s national committee members.

Among the 50 committee members, 28 of them, most of whom were outside of the Gyeonggi Dongbu faction, attended the online meeting and unanimously agreed to pass the bill including three motions: the resignation of the entire UPP leadership; the resignation of the 14 proportional candidates, including the six lawmakers-elect; and the formation of an emergency committee until new leadership is elected.

So far, four of the 14 proportional candidates have resigned. Lawmaker-elect Yoon Geum-soon, who received the second most votes, left her position on Friday.

It is uncertain whether the remaining 10 proportional candidates will abandon their candidacies. Co-chairman Rhyu convened a press meeting yesterday and said the passed motion is just a suggestion, not a mandatory directive.

“Legally, there’s no way to force the proportional candidates to step down,” Rhyu said. “However, they are all UPP members and we just ask them to sacrifice for the party.”

However, Kim Jae-yeon, an elected proportional lawmaker and a member of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, yesterday said that she wouldn’t abandon her candidacy.

“In one day, I have become a winner of a rigged election because of the report of the internal probe, which is not for the most part true,” Kim said.

“The election of a proportional candidate for the younger generation was conducted only by online voting, which the investigation leader said wasn’t confirmed to be rigged. The report, which only raised suspicions, insulted younger voters.”

The UPP earned seven geographical constituencies and six proportional candidacies in the April 11 legislative election. Even if all of the 14 proportional candidates step down, the party still has six party-nominated candidates to fill the positions.

However, Rhyu, one of the six such candidates, publicly said he wouldn’t assume office. In this case, the UPP will lose one parliamentary seat because only five people will be able to fill the vacancies. Additionally, the ruling Saenuri Party will become the majority in the parliament, with 150 of 299 National Assembly seats.

The liberal party’s mainstream faction and outsiders are expected to clash again at the party’s Central Steering Committee meeting slated for this Saturday, where they will discuss ways to salvage the sinking party.

But, despite the harsh internal strife, Rhyu said the UPP won’t split.

“We can’t split - there’s no reason to do that,” Rhyu said. “More than 10 percent of voters supported us and the split of the party is against their encouragement.”

Liberal figures, celebrities and citizens lambasted the UPP’s proportional candidates who are still clinging to their candidacies and the party’s mainstreamers, who are apparently controlling them.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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