Internal divide widens between PPP's Lee and Yoon
Lee Jun-seok, head of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), abruptly canceled his official activities Tuesday amid indications of a growing rift with the PPP’s presidential candidate, Yoon Seok-youl.
Former Prosecutor General Yoon and Lee have openly clashed on several issues, including appointments to the election campaign committee, and the young PPP chief appears to have been sidelined in some of the decisions made by the presidential candidate. This is leading to speculation that Lee could be considering resigning as a co-chair of the party's election campaign committee or the PPP leader amid his disappearance from the public eye.
Lee had been scheduled to attend a media forum, a Korean Advanced Farmers Federation event and hold a radio interview, but his office announced his official schedules have been “canceled from this day forward.” His office said that everything reported in the media about Lee, however, “is not true.”
Lee’s mobile phone remained turned off that day. He could continue to skip out on his remaining schedule this week.
Lee left a short cryptic Facebook post on Monday evening which read: “If that is so, then this is it.” He also posted an emoji of a smiling face with a thumbs-down gesture “^_^p” without further explanation.
He reportedly posted the message while out for drinks with a group of five first-term lawmakers.
Responding to various speculations, PPP floor leader Kim Gi-hyeon told reporters at the National Assembly Tuesday that Lee “seems to be completely lost," noting "it seems that he drank a lot yesterday." He expressed regret for the current situation.
Yoon and Lee have clashed over the election campaign's recruitment of Lee Soo-jung, a professor of criminal psychology at Kyonggi University, whom the election committee Monday said has spoken up for women in their 20s and 30s and has much female support.
PPP chief Lee had opposed the professor’s appointment and said in an MBC radio interview that Prof. Lee’s appointment goes against the “direction” in which the party has been going in preparation for the March 9 presidential election. He has relayed concern that her appointment could alienate the young male supporters of the party, as Prof. Lee is considered a feminist by that demographic.
The two had been at odds over Lee’s push to recruit so-called kingmaker Kim Chong-in, a former PPP interim head, as general chairman of the election campaign committee, which ended up being led by Yoon’s closest supporters. Kim ultimately didn’t join.
Yoon and Lee have also collided over Yoon’s alleged unilateral announcement of his Chungcheong trip.
Yoon has been on a three-day tour of Chungcheong since Monday, as his first trip since launching his election campaign, accompanied by his chief campaign strategist Kim Byong-joon.
Yoon said Sunday that PPP head Lee was supposed to accompany him on a trip to Sejong along with Kim, but Lee said in a CBS radio interview Monday said Yoon had not consulted with him about his schedule before making an announcement to the media first.
Lee said there was no way for him to suddenly adjust his schedule if he is unilaterally informed of such a trip the day before, calling the situation “preposterous.”
The two faced each other again at the first election campaign committee meeting at the National Assembly Monday morning, before Yoon left for Sejong — with just 100 days left till next year’s presidential election.
Yoon, however, refused to respond to questions Monday on Lee’s claims that he hadn’t heard about the trip, saying he wants to “focus on the future of the country today.”
When asked about the situation with Lee on Tuesday while touring Cheongju, Yoon responded, “I'm just fulfilling my role as a candidate,” saying he didn’t know what was going on and said he asked Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, the PPP secretary general, to try to figure things out.
PPP officials say they have never seen such friction between the presidential candidate and party chief before, a situation putting to test the party's leadership. Kweon was unable to meet with Lee Monday afternoon after visiting the PPP chief’s office in Nowon District, northern Seoul, despite waiting 30 minutes. He said he plans to try to meet him again the next day.
Kim Byong-joon in a radio interview Tuesday called the internal spat “embarrassing” as he addressed Lee’s Facebook post.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]