Yoon cancels activities again as party mayhem continues
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol canceled all his activities for a second day Tuesday amid continued mayhem within the party as it tries to overhaul its election campaign committee.
Yoon told reporters late Monday that "it won't take long" to finish revamping the PPP's election committee after a series of resignations by senior campaign officials following weeks of friction between different factions within the party.
Instead of attending a regular party meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning, Yoon stayed at home to deliberate on the direction of the election campaign committee, just around two months ahead of the March 9 presidential election.
Kwon Seong-dong, the party's secretary general, said to reporters at the PPP headquarters in western Seoul Tuesday, "The direction of the election campaign committee overhaul is a matter solely for the candidate to decide."
Yoon, Kwon said, "has been deliberating on what kind of election committee system will be helpful for an efficient campaign."
On whether he will be able to keep his current position, he said that it is a "decision for the presidential candidate." Kwon, a close aide to Yoon who has previously clashed with PPP chief Lee Jun-seok, wasn't among party officials that resigned on Monday.
Campaign chief Kim Chong-in made a surprise announcement Monday morning that there will be a complete overhaul of the election committee, addressing the declining approval ratings for Yoon in recent opinion polls.
The leaders within the campaign committee handed in their resignations en masse, the PPP announced later Monday. PPP Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon also offered to resign as the party's floor leader and as a standing co-chair of the election campaign committee, along with Kim Han-gil, Yoon's close confidant who headed the PPP's "new era preparatory committee," and Shin Ji-ye, a young feminist politician serving as a senior deputy chair of this committee.
The PPP initially said in a statement that Kim Chong-in was stepping down with all the other chairs and co-chairs in the campaign committee. However, Kim clarified later Monday evening that he was staying, further adding to the confusion that day.
A PPP spokesman later clarified that there had been a "miscommunication" between Yim Tae-hee, who oversees the campaign's general situation headquarters, and Kim, confirming that the resignations excluded the general chairman.
This addressed rumors that Yoon may be trying to exclude Kim from the campaign committee with the overhaul. Yim, however, is a confidant of Kim, rather than Yoon.
Kim likewise dismissed such speculation that Yoon is trying to exclude him from the campaign committee and told reporters in front of the party's headquarters in Yeouido Tuesday afternoon, "I'm sorry, but it would be better not to ask such a question."
On the revamping process, he continued, "It seems that candidate Yoon has not yet made a final decision, so we will wait for the results to come out," adding, "Our candidate is even more frustrated than me."
Kim added, "The candidate said he would make a decision sooner rather than later, so the results will come today or tomorrow. You will just have to wait until then."
He said in response to questions by reporters Monday on reports that Yoon had not been properly informed beforehand of the overhaul, that the plan to revamp the committee was "my decision."
The revamping of the campaign committee involves establishing a general headquarters and enabling a system that directly controls all situations related to the candidate, according to Kim. The overhaul is equivalent to a complete dismantling of the committee, essentially starting from scratch again. However, it will be up to Yoon to decide whether he will give Kim complete control over the campaign, or whether he will keep relying on his confidants. The hectic process continues to show the discord and power struggle within the party.
Kim's remarks Monday calling on Yoon to "act accordingly to what the campaign committee prepares for him" to secure an election victory has raised some brows on whether the veteran politician was overstepping his role.
Kim said he plans to play the role of "chief of staff" for Yoon until the election while urging a "change in attitude" from Yoon.
There was already rampant internal feuding between PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok and close aides to Yoon from the weeks before the launch of the election campaign committee.
At the height of the feud in the beginning of December, Lee canceled his official activities and went on a personal regional tour in protest of Yoon's decisions on how the campaign should be run. However, Yoon and Lee reconciled in a surprise dinner meeting in Ulsan on Dec. 3, which finally brought so-called presidential kingmaker Kim Chong-in on board as the campaign's general chairman.
After a delayed start, the PPP's election campaign committee officially launch on Dec. 6 in an apparent show of unity. However, internal friction ensued, and on Dec. 21, PPP chief Lee stepped down as a standing co-chair of the election campaign committee after clashing with a senior party official who refused to take instructions from him. Rep. Cho Su-jin, a senior member of the party's supreme council and a campaign member, told Lee she only accepts orders from Yoon.
Bickering between Lee and Yoon's aides continued, lending to the unrest within the party.
Controversy over Yoon's wife Kim Keon-hee's fabrications on her job résumé last month and Yoon's tendency to make gaffes added to worries within the party. Yoon is a newcomer to politics and to the party, after resigning as prosecutor general in March 2021 and joining the PPP in late July last year.
Both Lee's stepping down from the campaign last month and the other controversies appear to be reflected in the lower approval ratings for Yoon in opinion polls released over the past several days.
In turn, Yoon late Monday said to reporters on his declining approval ratings, "It is solely my fault as a candidate that I am lacking, and I sincerely apologize to the people for this."
Some within the PPP have called on Lee to step down as the party's chief to also take responsibility for the lower polls, while others said he had been spot-on about his criticisms of the campaign committee and claimed that his leadership was still needed to appeal to young voters.
In turn, Ahn Cheol-soo, presidential candidate for the minor opposition People's Party, has seen a gain in New Year's approval ratings, especially seeing growing popularity among the younger voters that have not been keen on either Yoon or the Democratic Party's Lee Jae-myung. This has led to speculation on a possible merger between Yoon and Ahn, with reports that the PPP has been making closed-door communications with the People's Party.
This comes as Ahn was picked by respondents as the preferred unified opposition presidential candidate over Yoon in a poll released Monday by Global Research and commissioned by JTBC Monday.
In this poll, 41.1 percent of respondents said they supported Ahn as a unified opposition candidate, while 30.6 percent said they preferred Yoon. The survey, conducted on 1,012 adults nationwide over the weekend, asked who they would support in a hypothetical merger of the two opposition candidates.
But among respondents who approved of a merger, 55.9 percent were in support of Yoon, compared to 35.9 percent for Ahn.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]