UFP dumps candidate over Sewol remarks

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UFP dumps candidate over Sewol remarks

On the eve of Wednesday’s general election, the main opposition party expelled a candidate Monday over repeated controversial comments about the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014.

The United Future Party (UFP) held a Supreme Council meeting at noon that expelled Cha Myong-jin, who is running in Bucheon C District of Gyeonggi.

Earlier in the morning, Park Hyung-joon, a leader of the UFP’s campaign committee, announced the party’s decision to skip an ordinary disciplinary process and get rid of Cha as soon as possible, as the party’s approval ratings plunge on the eve of the general election.

“We decided to expel him quickly,” Park said.

Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn hosted the Supreme Council meeting. Hwang and two Supreme Council members attended the session, while other members participated through conference calls.

“The decision was unanimous,” said Lee Jun-seok, one of the Supreme Council members who participated in the meeting.

“Politics that inflict pain on the people’s hearts must end,” Hwang said after expelling Cha. “We’ve given him a chance to control himself. But he continued to make controversial remarks, and the Supreme Council took it seriously.”

The expulsion reversed the Ethics Committee’s decision Friday to urge Cha to quit the party voluntarily within 10 days instead of expelling him immediately, effectively allowing his candidacy to continue. Cha made headlines by claiming that two fathers of students who died in the Sewol ferry sinking engaged in a threesome with a female volunteer in a public space during their protest in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square.

The party decided that Cha’s candidacy was hurting its chances among voters overall. “We’ve conducted various opinion polls and analyses,” said Park. “And we realized that we were in an incredibly serious and urgent crisis. If the trends [favoring the ruling Democratic Party, or DP] continue, we won’t able to stop a constitutional amendment.”

It requires two-thirds of the 300-member National Assembly to amend the Constitution. Park was suggesting that the UFP, which won 122 seats in the last general election, won’t be able to win 100 this time.

“The most serious issue was Cha,” Park continued. “According to our analysis, centrist voters in their 30s and 40s turned against us [because of him].”

“Candidates in the capital region have appealed to us and said this is a disaster waiting to happen,” Park said. “Many candidates asked for [his immediate] expulsion.”

Park admitted that Cha’s remarks are causing far more trouble with voters than the UFP initially realized. “We wanted to respect the legitimate process and believed that the [Ethics Committee’s] decision to urge him to leave the party will have the same effect as immediate expulsion,” Park said. “But after Cha resumed his campaign, he acted as if he was vindicated, fueling public rage toward the party.”

Even after the Ethics Committee’s punishment on Friday, Cha continued to make controversial remarks. In a Facebook posting on Saturday, Cha posted a photo showing two banners for his DP rival, Kim Sang-hee, hanging above and below his own banner on a street. He compared it to a threesome.

Kim said she will file criminal complaints against Cha for defaming and sexually harassing her.

UFP leaders, including Campaign Chief Kim Chong-in and Chairman Hwang, concluded Monday morning that they could no longer keep Cha.

A two-term lawmaker, Cha has a reputation for outrageous remarks about the ferry tragedy on April 16, 2014, that killed 299 and left five missing, mostly 11th graders on a school field trip. Last year, Cha criticized the families for exploiting their children’s deaths. He also said the victims’ families were brainwashed by left-wing politicians to blame former President Park Geun-hye and UFP leaders for the tragedy.

After removing the controversial candidate, the UFP tried to reinvent its strategy on the eve of the election. It said voters should support its candidates to protect Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, accusing the ruling party and administration of trying to oust him for having investigated former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family.

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

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