DP chair defends Yoon Mee-hyang, but the polls don'tChairman Lee Hae-chan of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Wednesday continued to defend lawmaker-elect Yoon Mee-hyang despite mounting public pressure for her to surrender her National Assembly seat.
Yoon, who until recently was the head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, is at the center of ballooning controversy over the civic group's past actions and finances.
“If there were mistakes, we need to fix them and those responsible must assume responsibility,” Lee said at the party’s Supreme Council meeting. “But that should be done based on facts. You must not submit to malicious suspicions and personal attacks on your private life.”
Yoon has denied the allegations, which are the subject of multiple criminal complaints and an ongoing investigation by the prosecution. But she has not appeared publicly or offered a response since last week despite mounting demands for her to explain issues raised about her work with the Korean Council.
She also said Yoon is unfit to serve as a lawmaker. Yoon was elected last month as a proportional lawmaker, following a campaign that relied heavily on her experiences as a long-time advocate for comfort women.
Chairman Lee on Wednesday said Yoon and the Korean Council’s 30-year history of activism shouldn’t become the subject of political fight. “The media are making many exaggerated reports about trivial things,” Lee said. “The party is paying close attention, but we cannot become a mature democracy if this practice continues.”
The DP Chairman’s defense of Yoon followed snowballing public demands that she forfeit her seat in the legislature. Seven out of 10 people said she must give up the post, according to a poll conducted Tuesday by Realmeter.
According to the poll results, 70.4 percent of respondents said Yoon must resign, while 20.4 percent said she should stay.
Of the supporters of the DP, 51.2 percent said Yoon must give up the seat. Of the Justice Party supporters, 72.5 percent said Yoon must step down, and 95.8 percent of the United Future Party (UFP) supporters demanded her resignation.
Despite the public defense of Yoon by the DP's chairman, other ruling party leaders have pressured her to lay bare the truth.
“I am heartbroken that survivor Lee Yong-soo held two press conferences to express her rage,” Rep. Kim Hae-young, a member of the Supreme Council, said in front of Chairman Lee during the leadership meeting on Wednesday. “I want Yoon to make her position clear.”
He also said the party must act responsibly. “We cannot just wait for the conclusion of the prosecution’s probe,” he said. “The party must conduct an investigation on its own as soon as possible.”
DP spokesman Song Kap-seok also said the time has come for Yoon to respond to the allegations.
Sources inside the DP told the JoongAng Ilbo that some lawmakers had requested that Yoon give up her post, but she has adamantly resisted. Since last week, Yoon has canceled all public activities, including a meeting with foreign correspondents and a National Assembly seminar for the lawmakers-elect who will start their first terms later this month.
The DP held a workshop meeting of its lawmakers-elect on Wednesday, from which Yoon was conspicuously missing.
“The DP must stop protecting Yoon and start listening to the wishes of the survivors, including Lee Yong-soo, to resolve the situation,” Rep. Choi Hyung-du, a UFP spokesman, said in a statement. “As this situation is continuing, we lost another survivor.”
One of the remaining survivors of the Japanese Military's wartime sexual slavery died Tuesday at a shelter called the House of Sharing. Her identity was not publicly released, in accordance with her family's wishes. Her death reduced the number of living survivors to 17.
A lawmaker is immune from the arrest during a session, according to the Article 44 of the Constitution. An exception requires the National Assembly’s passage of a motion to allow the arrest, which has only happened once before. In 2013, the legislature overwhelming passed a motion that lifted legislative immunity of Rep. Lee Seok-gi of now disbanded Unified Progressive Party for an investigation into rebellion charges.
The prosecution is currently investigating allegations of financial fraud and corruption surrounding Yoon and the advocacy group. Facilities maintained by the Korean Council were raided last week, and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol has ordered a speedy investigation.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]