History of leftist party goes beyond its 3 years

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History of leftist party goes beyond its 3 years

The Constitutional Court’s ruling put an effective end to the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) on Friday only three years after its foundation, but the leftist party has had a longer and more complex role in Korea’s political history.

Student activists began participating more aggressively in political activities after the country’s democratization in 1987. They were split into two groups - the People’s Democracy (PD) faction promoting the Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the National Liberation (NL) faction, which followed North Korea’s Juche (self-reliance) ideology.

In 2000, the activists created the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The PD faction initiated the move while the NL group and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined in. Their goal was to enter the legislature, but the party failed to win a seat in the general elections that year.

The DLP saw a glimpse of hope in the 2002 presidential election, however, when its candidate Kwon Young-ghil managed to win third place with 3.98 percent of the votes. Most liberals voted for Roh Moo-hyun, awarding him the victory.

Two years later, the DLP managed to win 10 seats in the National Assembly, and its star politicians such as Kwon and Sim Sang-jeung made their debuts as lawmakers.

The party, however, was marred by a pro-Pyongyang scandal in 2006. Its members and liberal politicians were accused of contacting North Korea and offering political data to Pyongyang. After an investigation, the prosecution announced that some of the party members had taken an oath of allegiance to the North and had joined the Workers’ Party. While the DLP argued that the case was tantamount to political oppression, the Supreme Court convicted the members in 2007 on the eve of the presidential election.

Sim, a PD member and the DLP chairwoman, said the party must expel its pro-Pyongyang members, but the NL rejected the reform plan. A group of politicians, including Sim, left to create the New Progressive Party.

After their departure, the DLP was controlled by the NL. In the 2008 general elections, the party won just five seats. Lee Jung-hee, chairwoman of the UPP, who ran in the 2012 presidential election as its candidate, became a lawmaker at the time as the DLP’s proportional representative.

At the end of 2011, Lee and Rhyu Si-min, former welfare minister of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, agreed to a grand merger of the liberals. The DLP and Ryu’s political party combined, with Sim’s New Progressive Party joining to create the UPP.

During the process, the New Progressive Party members demanded for the UPP to adopt an official policy disagreeing with the third-generation power succession in North Korea. But the proposal was rejected.

The UPP managed to win 13 seats in the National Assembly in the 2012 elections by forming an electoral alliance with the largest opposition Democratic Party, the predecessor of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Following the elections, the UPP faced yet another scandal: that its primary to create a list of proportional representative candidates had been rigged. More accusations followed that the UPP was controlled by the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, a pro-Pyongyang group established in 1991 by the NL. They were accused of rigging the primary to make sure Lee Seok-gi would enter the National Assembly by becoming the UPP’s proportional representative.

The prosecutors indicted Lee last year on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government in the event of a war with North Korea. While the case is still pending at the Supreme Court, it eventually served as one of the reasons behind the Constitutional Court’s order to dissolve the UPP.

While the NL faction inside the UPP protected Lee, the pro-Pyongyang controversy further escalated. Rhyu revealed that the UPP does not sing the national anthem during its official meetings, fueling the controversy.

A power struggle followed and physical violence broke out during a party meeting. The UPP broke up again as the PD faction led by Sim and pro-Roh politicians, including Rhyu, left to create the Progressive Justice Party in 2012, leaving only the NL faction.

The UPP made an attempt to turn the situation around later that year by sending Lee Jung-hee as its presidential candidate, but her campaign invited criticism after she said during a live TV debate that her bid was to “stop Park Geun-hye from winning.”

On Aug. 28, 2013, the National Intelligence Service raided the home and offices of Lee Seok-ki on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. The government continued its probe and the case led the Park administration to petition for the Constitutional Court to outlaw the UPP in November last year. After 409 days of deliberation, the court pulled the plug on the party. 

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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