Fractious at the topPeople Power Party (PPP) Chairman Lee Jun-seok has disappeared. He cut off contact with members of the opposition after posting an enigmatic message on Facebook. “If so, [my job] ends here,” he wrote, suggesting a boycott of his role as head of the PPP even before the official launch of its presidential election committee on December 6.
His behavior has triggered many suspicions. First of all, party insiders and outsiders point to the apparent disappointment Lee may have felt after the election of Yoon Seok-youl as the party’s presidential candidate. Yoon, the former prosecutor general, reportedly did not consult with Lee over his campaign schedule for Chungcheong Province. Also, Lee reportedly has conflict with Yoon’s campaign staff over the recruitment of Prof. Lee Soo-jung, a renowned forensic psychologist, as co-chair of the campaign committee and the invitation of Kim Chong-in, former emergency committee chair of the PPP, to head of the committee.
Given the mixed character of the campaign committee, Lee should refrain from overreacting. His expression of clear opposition to the recruitment of Professor Lee is not proper either. As an expert in safety and human rights for women and children, she was chosen as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the Year in 2019. Considering her potential contribution to expanding Yoon’s support base, Lee should not have resorted to a disappearing act. (Lee opposed her recruitment citing “possible confusion for our supporters.”)
Yoon’s weak leadership in bringing in Kim also helped deepen a friction with Lee. At the same time, Yoon needs to end his overreliance on a precious few in the party. As he has the authority to form the campaign committee, party members must take a concerted action once a decision is made.
Nevertheless, Lee seems to be acting as if he were a political commentator — not party head — about various issues. He often risked internal division to pursue what he wanted instead of competing with the ruling party. The habit he had built when he was a member of a splinter opposition party has not changed at all.
Chairman Lee must not forget that the Saenuri Party — a predecessor of the PPP — suffered a crushing defeat in the 2016 parliamentary elections after its head Kim Moo-sung boycotted his job in protest of the Blue House’s intervention in the nomination of candidates. The public is very cynical about power struggles. With fewer than 100 days to go before the March 9 presidential election, internal divisions are the biggest enemy.