Yoon pulls campaign back from the brink
The main opposition party saw its election campaign committee pulled apart last week, a push by lawmakers to oust party chairman Lee Jun-seok, and Yoon's last-minute intervention to make up with Lee last Thursday — all just two months ahead of the presidential election.
Yoon entered the New Year with a drop in approval ratings following continued factionalism within the party, controversy over his wife's fabricated job credentials and his own gaffes.
On Jan. 3, veteran politician Kim Chong-in, often described as a kingmaker, announced a complete overhaul of the election campaign committee to respond to Yoon's declining poll numbers. After deliberating for two days, Yoon went further than Kim's plan and dismantled the PPP's month-old election campaign committee last Wednesday, vowing to start anew without its general chairman Kim, who announced his departure. Yoon's close aides, who often clashed with party chief Lee, also resigned from the campaign.
However, bickering within the party continued Thursday, after Lee initially rejected Yoon's nominations of Rep. Kwon Young-se as the party's new secretary general and Rep. Lee Chul-gyu as a strategic planning chief. Rep. Lee is considered close to Yoon's confidants. The appointments were pushed through later that day.
The PPP deputy floor leader and some lawmakers called for the resignation of PPP chairman Lee Thursday morning, saying he needed to take responsibility for the party's discord. In late December, Lee abruptly resigned as a standing co-chair of the election campaign committee after a power struggle with Yoon's aides. Lee had been in charge of public relations in the campaign and reached a tipping point after a senior PPP official said she only took orders from Yoon.
Last Thursday, the party held a general meeting to discuss a resolution to remove Lee, and the PPP chief gave a 30-minute speech to lawmakers about why he should stay. He said he was open to rejoining the campaign.
Yoon entered the party meeting just before 8 p.m. in an unscheduled visit, taking blame for the situation as the presidential candidate, and said, "I hope that we can put our misunderstandings behind us and move forward for victory in the election."
He said that Lee should stay on as chairman, and Yoon's remarks were received with applause from lawmakers.
Lee said that he "never doubted Yoon" and vowed to work with him for an election victory. The two embraced each other.
In turn, the PPP members who proposed a resolution demanding Lee's resignation backed down.
Despite their reconciliatory hug, party members remain concerned that Yoon and Lee could clash again as they did not resolve their fundamental differences.
They had a similar reconciliation at a dinner meeting in Ulsan on Dec. 3 after Lee boycotted official events following tensions with Yoon's aides on election campaign appointments and communication issues.
PPP Rep. Park Soo-young told CBS radio Saturday, "Nobody thought Chairman Lee did the right thing, or defended him, and it was the candidate who said he will carry him along. Our sentiment was to follow the candidate's intentions."
Lee in an MBC radio program Saturday shot back at Park's remarks and said, "It is not helpful at all for unity within the party," telling the lawmaker to "get a grip."
But over the weekend, Yoon and Lee were busy trying to transform the candidate's public image, especially appealing to the younger demographic. Yoon cooperated with Lee to film a series of promotional videos to share on social media.
On Saturday, Yoon released two short video clips on his YouTube channel on subway passes and freezing electric vehicle (EV) rates featuring himself, Lee and Won Hee-ryong, a campaign policy chief.
A video of an artificial intelligence (AI) version of Yoon answering online comments also was released on his campaign page.
Yoon rode a subway to work Friday and visited a supermarket Saturday ahead of the government's plans to impose a vaccine pass system on big retail outlets starting Monday. He also visited a gallery featuring works by artists with developmental disabilities Saturday.
Yoon also provoked controversy by posting a message entitled, "Scrap the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family" on Facebook Saturday, an issue that has been pushed by Lee. This went against the candidate's previous pledge to "reform" the Gender Equality Ministry in a speech in October.
Yoon appears to be trying to appeal to young male voters, a demographic that has been critical of the appointment of a young feminist politician to his campaign.
Gender politics have become an issue in the campaign. Yoon told reporters Saturday when asked about his call to scrap the Gender Equality Ministry, "My current position is to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, but I will think about it a little more."
There has been mixed messaging within his campaign on the Gender Equality Ministry, with a PPP campaign spokesperson saying that a "renaming was under review."
Yoon later clarified that was not the case and that a new agency comprehensively overseeing children, family and population decrease would be established.
Yoon is also trying to set aside differences and reach out to rivals from the PPP primaries, Hong Joon-pyo and Yoo Seong-min, eying a more unified campaign with around 60 days left until the election.
Yoon told reporters Friday that he called Hong the previous day to send New Year's greetings and discussed meeting this week, without setting an exact date. Hong has been an outspoken critic of Yoon and has more appeal to younger voters.
Likewise, Yoon said he is considering "multiple angles" when asked about a meeting with Yoo.
Yoon didn't have any public schedule for Sunday but was reportedly focusing on policymaking and pledges to be announced this week.
In the latest poll released by Gallup Korea Saturday, ruling Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung was in the lead with an approval rating of 36 percent. Yoon followed at 26 percent, minor opposition People's Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo at 15 percent and Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party at 5 percent.
The survey was conducted on 1,002 adults 18 and over nationwide from Jan. 4 to 6.
Yoon saw his approval ratings drop from 35 percent in a Gallup Korea survey taken from Dec. 14 to 16 to 26 percent between Jan. 4 and 6. During that same period, Ahn saw his popularity jump from 5 percent to 15 percent.
Ahn saw his approval rating increase by 10 percentage points, while Yoon saw his popularity drop by 9 percentage points, and has especially seen a gain in the crucial young voter demographic. However, Ahn has reiterated he is not interested in merging campaigns for now.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]