The Lee Jun-seok riskThe main opposition People Power Party (PPP) has been swept up in a dispute between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the government over the scope of recipients for the next Covid-19 relief grants. The fiasco is entirely due to new PPP chief Lee Jun-seok. During a lunch meeting with his DP counterpart Song Young-gil, Lee agreed to consider bipartisan support for a universal relief handout instead of the government’s plan to give the money to the lower 80 percent income brackets and reinforce aid for small merchants and the self-employed. Their verbal agreement led to news headlines about the two parties agreeing on a universal relief fund.
The news upset the PPP as it has been backing selective grants. Floor-leader Kim Ki-hyun reiterated that the party’s stance remains the same. Rep. Yoon Hee-sook criticized the young party chief for going against his pledge to run party affairs in a democratic manner.
Lee had to explain that the meeting’s results were misrepresented. He claimed he had argued for an increase in funding for struggling merchants. But the DP demanded him keep his agreement. Lee had to repeatedly explain the agreement, giving the impression that the 30-something party chief could have been played by a seasoned politician.
What can’t be denied is that Lee had overstepped. Under the PPP rules, its floor leader has the authority to bargain on law-making affairs, including budgetary planning. But what Lee discussed with Song of the DP had not been coordinated with the floor leader. There was no indication that the PPP has changed its mind about the relief package.
Lee may have wished to produce news after a meeting with Song. But he was over-eager. The new chief without legislative activity experience has been too assertive recently without thorough party discussions. He even spoke of the uselessness of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and then did the same about the Ministry of Unification. When criticism built up within the PPP, Lee said his proposal is for a “smaller government.”
Of course, he has the right to speak his mind about the civilian rights in Hong Kong during his meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Seoul. But he could have avoided making the same argument in an interview with a foreign media. Lee had brushed aside concerns about his inexperience as the youngest party chief, saying he had good judgment. But he must check himself because the political stage does not tolerate a one-man show. He must become more modest and prudent to meet the expectations of many people hoping for a change in the political generation and even governing power.