Kim Chong-in vows to step up role in PPP campaign committee
Veteran politician Kim Chong-in said Wednesday he will work to regroup and helm the main opposition People Power Party's (PPP) campaign after the party's chief, Lee Jun-seok, abruptly announced he will step down from all his positions in the election committee for presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol the previous day.
In an attempt to contain the internal disorganization surrounding the PPP election campaign, so-called kingmaker Kim, its general chairman, told reporters, "As the person responsible for the committee, I will take the lead so that it can be run more efficiently, so that a crisis like this will not happen again."
Lee announced Tuesday he will step down from all positions in the party's election campaign committee after a heated spat over who was in command with Cho Su-jin, a member of the party's supreme council who has served as the campaign committee's public relations chief.
Yoon met with Kim earlier Wednesday morning to discuss the situation, before the presidential candidate departed on a two-day tour to the Honam region, referring to the North and South Jeolla provinces.
After the meeting, Yoon told reporters that Kim said he plans to "hold a stronger grip to operate the election committee more efficiently." Yoon said he agreed with Kim's plans.
Dubbed the "Yeouido czar," Kim, who belatedly joined Yoon's campaign at the beginning of the month, appears to be stepping up to reorganize and take control of the election committee leadership amid confusion over the constant internal bickering.
Kim, a former interim PPP chief, said in a press conference later, "We are determined to put behind the incident yesterday between party chief Lee Jun-seok and Cho Su-jin and build an election campaign team with new resolve on how to take on the election efficiently in the future."
He said that Lee's resignation as the committee's standing co-chair "concluded" the issue, adding "it is customary to take things as they are when a politician makes a public declaration," indicating that the PPP chief is unlikely to rejoin the campaign committee.
Yoon told Kim, "We need to create an efficient and competent election committee," and Kim agreed, saying that rather than cutting or reducing the current campaign members, he plans to increase efficiency where possible, according to Lee Yang-soo, a party spokesman.
Yoon also expressed his worries over Lee's resignation from the committee, and Kim replied, "I am also worried but will work hard to resolve things."
Lee in a press conference Tuesday afternoon said he quit as standing co-chair of the PPP election campaign committee and head of media and public relations, saying he no longer has a "role" to play within the campaign. He had said he has "no regrets" resigning from the positions, adding he will continue to do his duties to help the campaign as the party's chairman.
Hours after Lee's announcement, Cho apologized and also stepped down from her post in the committee.
The two had a verbal altercation during an election campaign committee meeting Monday, reportedly disagreeing on how to respond to allegations that Yoon's wife Kim Kun-hee falsified her credentials in her job applications.
Cho said she would only follow Yoon's orders, refusing to follow Lee's instructions. Lee vented his anger on Facebook later that day after he found out Cho had shared with journalists a link of a YouTube video slandering him. Cho apologized over Facebook, but Lee didn't accept it, calling on her to resign.
Internal feuding has plagued the campaign from the onset, with Lee and the presidential candidate clashing over election committee appointments and the influence of Yoon's close aides.
Amid the heightened friction, Lee boycotted his official activities and embarked on a personal regional trip instead of accompanying Yoon on a Chungcheong campaign tour at the beginning of this month. However, Yoon and Lee reconciled in a surprise dinner meeting in Ulsan on Dec. 3, which also brought Kim Chong-in on board as the general chairman, leading to the official launch of the election campaign committee.
Just three weeks after the dramatic reconciliation in Ulsan, the campaign again is creaking from disputes within the party ahead of the March 9 presidential election.
Kim and Lee also met later that day. Afterwards, Kim told reporters at a hotel in central Seoul that he told Lee that he has a "responsibility as head of the party," and that he couldn't remain "indifferent" to the election.
He added, "The future of Chairman Lee Jun-seok's political career also depends on how next year's presidential election turns out."
After attending a Korean Women Journalists Association event at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul earlier Wednesday, Lee told reporters when asked what role he can play as PPP chief for an election victory, "Ask the people who say that Lee Jun-seok must step down to win the election."
He later said he would do what he can as party chief to aid the campaign.
Yoon initially said Monday such a spat between and Lee and Cho could happen while doing politics in a democracy. However, as the issue brewed, he sought Cho to try to get her to apologize to Lee. But Lee was undeterred and stepped down from the campaign.
Senior campaign members including Yim Tae-hee, overseeing the general situation headquarters, and secretary general Kwon Seong-dong are expected to step up roles within the election committee. However, concerns are mounting within the party both over the risks surrounding family controversies and the division within the campaign.
Yoon said in an interview Tuesday that he plans to abolish the Blue House office supporting the first lady if he is elected, as to downplay the role of the presidential spouse amid the allegations surrounding his wife.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]