Opposition shows signs of split over primary rigging
Rep. Lee Jung-hee
By Lee Tae-hoon
Officials of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) Wednesday urged Rep. Lee Jung-hee, a co-leader of the minor opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), and three other political heavyweights of the left-leaning party to give up their parliamentary bid.
Rep. Kim Hee-chull and seven other DUP members, who lost in a joint primary with the UPP, alleged that the four rigged telephone surveys to become unified opposition candidates for the April 11 National Assembly elections.
“All four of the candidates must withdraw their candidacy to take responsibility for manipulating opinion polls,” Kim said in a press briefing, referring to UPP co-chairs Lee and Shim Sang-jung, spokesman Roh Hoe-chan and the former administration’s presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun.
Other DUP candidates defeated by UPP big names also claimed that the leftists systemically manipulated the results of telephone surveys by obtaining information that should have been kept confidential.
They allege that staff members of the UPP Co-chairwoman Shim and two other heavyweights sent similar text messages to UPP members notifying them of the exact time of the telephone survey and remaining sample age groups.
The two parties announced Monday a list of unified candidates selected on the basis of a two-day telephone survey in line with efforts to avoid dividing the liberal vote in the upcoming elections.
Kim argued that he lost to Lee due to her unfair campaigning during the telephone survey carried out by random digit dialing and a computerized voice response system.
Lee acknowledged that two of her aides sent text messages on Feb. 17 and 18 to some 250 party members that urged them to lie about their ages to increase the chances of participating in a phone survey.
She offered to hold another primary with Kim, refusing to withdraw her candidacy.
“It has been confirmed that two staff members of my camp sent text messages that asked people to say that they were in their 20s or 30s in the phone survey,” Lee said.
“It is difficult to say it had a significant influence on the results of the opinion poll, but if DUP candidate Kim believes it changed the outcome, I am willing to hold another primary.”
An official of the National Election Commission said that the election watchdog has decided not to look into Lee’s breach of campaign rules as the Election Law is not applied to inter-party primaries.
“The NEC cannot interfere in the matter as the matter is something that the two parties should settle,” he said. “Kim, however, may file a lawsuit against Lee for obstruction of business.”
Civic group Hwalbindan lodged a complaint with the police, saying, “Lee Jung-hee undermined parliamentary democracy and deceived voters by fabricating the results of the survey.”
Meanwhile, senior members of the DUP said that their party is considering demanding her resignation as a co-chair of the UPP, despite Lee’s stance that she will continue in her leadership post.
They said the DUP may encourage Kim to run in the Gwanak constituency in Seoul against Lee as an independent candidate if the party fails to bridge its differences with her.
Kim expressed his intent to leave the DUP Wednesday to run as an independent, but the party asked him to withhold his decision until the matter was settled.
Political observers say the controversy over the results of the joint primaries may deal a heavy blow to the UPP, which recently saw an increase in popularity for its promise to root out government corruption.
They also point out that the incident will negatively affect its ongoing efforts to beef up its alliance with the main opposition party.