Candidate's self-quarantine complicates DP chairmanship race
The ruling party’s leadership election, scheduled for next week, has been complicated by the recent surge of coronavirus infections, with one of the candidates for party chairman now undergoing a two-week quarantine.
Rep. Lee Nak-yon, former prime minister in the Moon Jae-in administration and one of three candidates in the race, on Tuesday morning came into contact with a reporter who later tested positive for the coronavirus. He took the test that evening and public health authorities said Wednesday that he had tested negative.
Lee was still advised to respect a two-week self-quarantine period. Lee said he would respect the recommendation and started isolation at his home in the Jongno District of central Seoul.
As Lee’s isolation will end at noon on Aug. 31, the Democratic Party (DP) said Thursday that it has canceled a TV debate scheduled for that day.
“We asked for the understanding of the two other candidates and decided to cancel today’s MBC debate,” Rep. Min Hong-chul, the chairman of the DP’s election commission, said in a briefing.
He added that an Aug. 27 debate hosted by KBS will still go forward using videoconference calls.
According to Min, the party will also hold an online speech event on Saturday as planned. The event will be aired live, and Lee will send a self-shot video of his speech from home.
The DP will hold its national convention at its party headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul on Aug. 29. Participants to the event have been limited to 50, in accordance with the elevated preventive measures put into place by the government. Lee won’t be able to attend the event.
The party will elect its new chairman and the Supreme Council members. Rep. Lee, former Interior Minister Kim Boo-kyum and Rep. Park Ju-min are competing in the chairmanship race. Eight candidates are running to fill five seats on the Supreme Council.
Asked if the party will delay the national convention, Min said, “It is not something the election commission can decide. It is a decision that should be made by the Supreme Council.”
Kim, the former interior minister, said Thursday that the party should suspend the campaign events, demanding a delay of the election.
“The right of the party members and the people to know the candidates is the most important part of the chairmanship election,” Kim said in a statement. “All three candidates should be given fair opportunities to campaign. Lee, although in self-quarantine, cannot be an exception.”
Kim said for the sake of fairness to Lee, the DP should suspend the current national convention schedule.
The DP said the preparation committee and the Supreme Council will meet Thursday and announce a decision on Friday morning on whether to reschedule the election or not.
The elevated preventive measures are also expected to affect the National Assembly, which is scheduled to start its regular session in September. According to the government measures, indoor gatherings with more than 50 people are banned.
While standing committee meetings are possible by minimizing the lawmakers’ entourages and the number of government officials participating in the conferences, it becomes impossible to hold a plenary session, where all 300 lawmakers are supposed to attend.
The regular session is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, and a series of hearings and voting sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks. The National Assembly Secretariat is currently discussing contingency plans to operate the legislature without violating the government’s mandate.
The legislature is currently establishing videoconference and remote voting systems for the 16 standing committees by using the supplementary budget. In July, 450 million won ($380,000) was allocated to build the systems, and the National Assembly recently started a bidding process.
Using a videoconference call to deliberate on bills during a plenary session and allowing remote voting-by-proxy or an online voting, however, would require a revision to the National Assembly Act, according to officials at the National Assembly Secretariat.
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