UPP’s big faction circles the wagons
The opposition Unified Progressive Party yesterday convened a public hearing over the party’s primary rigging scandal.
The country’s third-largest party, which earned seven geographic constituencies and six proportional seats, is ailing from internal strife over whether the party’s proportional primary in March was rigged.
When she showed up at the hall, roughly 200 party members hailed her with applause. Kim Sun-dong, the UPP member who carried out the tear gas attack in the legislative chamber in protest of the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade deal, hugged her. Kim Jae-yeon, the representative-elect of the UPP who publicly said she wouldn’t resign, sat down beside Lee.
Most of the attendees were members of the party’s biggest faction, the so-called Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance. They were mostly former socialist student activists who supported North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology in 1970s and 1980s and formed the National Liberalization (NL) group.
In 1991, they established the Association for Democracy and Reunification of Korea and the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance was a regional chapter of the association.
Despite the party’s internal probe that found that the March primary was rigged, the largest faction denied the probe and said they need a reinvestigation. However, other members outside the faction were absent at the hearing, including the other two co-chairmen, Rhyu Si-min and Sim Sang-jeong. They say that the primary was apparently rigged and all the elected and proportional candidates should step down.
Standing on the podium, Lee stared at her members and spoke: “If I was cautious of every single detail in the management of the election, the incident wouldn’t have happened. As a co-chair, I think you should punish me for the all mistakes and carelessness that brought on this scandal.”
However, Lee emphasized that the internal investigators are attempting a “witch hunt” against them.
“As the internal investigation committee started the witch hunt, the media reported that we caused the incident,” Lee said.
After she finished the one hour and 20 minute speech, the audience stood up and applauded.
Political observers say that the UPP’s largest faction is trying to keep Lee Seok-gi, who received the most votes in the primary, in the Assembly by making Lee Jung-hee take the fall.
It’s not the first time that a far-left party has suffered from a rift among members.
The so-called NL group, the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, was the former Democratic Labor Party and the three UPP co-chairs were former members. At that time, NL members made up largest faction of the DLP.
In 2007, a group of DLP members were convicted of involvement with an underground spy ring working for North Korea. Rhyu and other non-NL members demanded the party leadership expel those involved in the case, arguing that those pro-North members were tainting the party’s political image and negatively impacting approval ratings.
But the leadership rejected the request and Rhyu and the outsiders defected from the party and formed the New Progressive Party. Still, UPP’s Co-chair Rhyu and Sim say they don’t want the party to split.
By Kim Gyeong-jin, Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]