UFP apologizes for its candidates’ remarks

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UFP apologizes for its candidates’ remarks

Chief campaign manager Kim Chong-in of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) issued a public apology on Thursday after a candidate claimed that bereaved fathers of Sewol ferry’s victims and a volunteer had engaged in a threesome at a public space during their years-long protest in central Seoul.

Kim held an urgent press conference at the National Assembly in the morning and issued an apology that the UFP candidates made disgraceful remarks one after another on the eve of the April 15 general elections. “Two of the UFP candidates spoke recklessly and disappointed and enraged the people,” Kim said. “I offer my heartfelt apology.”

“Their remarks do not deserve any verifications. They spit out unspeakable words as candidates of a public political party,” Kim said. “I ordered all candidates and party officials to speak and act prudently. I promise that there will be no recurrence of a similar incident.”

Kim said he was extremely disappointed with the largest opposition party after he joined to chair its campaigns 11 days ago. “I thought I should give it all up,” he said. “But if voters give just one more chance to the UFP in the upcoming general elections, I assure you that we will never let you down again.”

Kim was trying to salvage the sinking of the party in next week’s general elections. The provocative remarks were made by Cha Myong-jin, a former two-time lawmaker and the UFP’s candidate for Bucheon C District of Gyeonggi, and Kim Dae-ho, nominated by the UFP for Gwanak A District of Seoul. After the two candidates angered the public, the party kicked candidate Kim out on Wednesday and started a disciplinary process to expel Cha.

Cha is already notorious for his controversial stance toward the tragic sinking of the ferry and bereaved families. The ferry sank on April 16, 2014, and 299 died and 5 are missing, including many high school students on a field trip.

Along with the abuse of power scandal involving her confident Choi Soon-sil, the government’s poor response to the ferry’s sinking was often seen as one of key reasons behind the impeachment and removal of President Park Geun-hye in 2017.

Last year, Cha faced fierce criticism from the public after posting on Facebook that the families were exploiting their children’s deaths. He also said the victims’ families were brainwashed by left-wing politicians and blamed Park and UFP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn, although they were unrelated to the incident.

On Monday, Cha made more scandalous remarks about the bereaved families during a debate, hosted and recorded by OBS. When his rival from the Democratic Party Rep. Kim Sang-hee attacked him about the 2019 Facebook post, Cha countered her by quoting a media report about the alleged threesome between victims’ fathers and a volunteer.

“Do you know the threesome incident?” Cha countered Kim. “Before I wrote the Facebook post, I already knew about a media report in 2018 that a volunteer and members of the bereaved families were engaged in an unspeakable, promiscuous act. I was criticizing the people who used the tragedy to impeach the president, win power and are still abusing it until now and the people who committed an awful act inside a protest tent by abusing the people’s sympathy toward them.”

The debate was aired on Wednesday afternoon as scheduled, and the UFP leaders were baffled. They started the process to kick Cha out in order to stop the scandal from further damaging the conservative opposition party.

The party had already been marred by another candidate’s defamatory remarks. Earlier Wednesday, the UFP held an Ethic Committee meeting and approved the expulsion of Kim Dae-ho, its candidate for Gwanak A District of Seoul, for seriously harming the party during the election.

During a campaign meeting on Monday, Kim made remarks deemed insulting to the voters in their 30s and 40s. “People in their 50s have reasons when they raise issues,” Kim said. “But voters in their mid-30s and 40s don’t. They just have grand ignorance and delusion.”

He made further inappropriate remarks the next day. During a debate on Tuesday, Kim said, “There are different types of disabilities. […] When you grow old, everyone becomes a person with a disability.”

Although the UFP hurried and kicked Kim out, it faced yet another scandal after the debate attended by Cha was aired Wednesday afternoon. UFP Chairman Hwang issued an apology Wednesday night. “I want to make clear that Cha’s remarks are unacceptable under any circumstance,” he said. “As the chairman of the party, I feel heavily responsible for his wrongful remarks. I apologize to the nation.”

Cha, however, maintained that he was unfairly attacked. “I sincerely apologize for my past comments, if they hurt the people who had lost their precious children,” Cha said. “But I was only quoting what I learned from a media report.”

The article Cha referred to was a report by News Plus, an online publication claiming to promote liberty. “The report was posted on May 10, 2018,” Cha said. “And it has not been removed nor faced any legal punishment.”

The report said the organizer of the protests by the victims’ families to demand a thorough investigation was aware of the inappropriate sexual activity, but covered it up. A volunteer saw fathers of two victims and a female volunteer having a threesome inside a tent at Gwanghwamun Square, according to the report. The female volunteer later told an activist that she did so to “heal their pains.”

While the report was not largely quoted at the time of its initial posting, rightist YouTubers have recently started to make reference to it. News Plus had not removed the report from its internet site as of 4 p.m. on Thursday.

The April 16 Sewol Families for Truth and a Safer Society, an organization representing the families, denied the news report on Thursday. “We have refrained from presenting an official stance on this issue because it involves the families’ privacy,” it said in a statement. “But we will no longer tolerate the situation. We will hunt down the offenders and ask their criminal and civil responsibilities. We will also lay bare the attempts to destroy our community.”

ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr

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