UPP man accused of vote-rigging breaks silence
A recently elected member of the National Assembly, Lee Seok-gi, is at the center of allegations that he masterminded a vote-rigging scandal. It has put the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) at risk of splitting amid an intensifying feud.
The 50-year-old is also under fire for past pro-communist activities before he joined the leftist party and his ambiguous position on North Korea. His involvement in a spying scandal previously put him in jail.
The lawmaker-elect broke the silence Wednesday, revealing his position about the rumors and how he felt over the last two months when the leftist party had undergone severe infighting between moderate and radical factions.
Lee claims the conservative media have “painted” him as a greedy, corrupt, and unethical politician who spearheaded irregularities in selecting candidates to run in the April 11 elections under the proportional representation voting system.
He denies the allegations, saying he neither flexed his muscles during the selection process nor is part of a reportedly radical group, dubbed the Eastern Chapter of Gyeonggi Province.
Some media alleged the lawmaker-elect is an insiders’ insider of the pro-North Korea group. But those familiar with the student activism that swept the nation in the 1970s and 80s deny this.
In the past, they said, the Eastern Chapter referred to a group of student activists based in Gyoenggi Province who fought against the authoritarian governments, but that it no longer exists.
Others say Lee’s arguments against his alleged role in the online vote fraud case, are not strong enough to refute it.
However, some insiders of the UPP claim some 60 percent of those who cast their online votes for Lee when voting was held to select party candidates to run in the April 11 elections under the proportional representation system used the same Internet Provider (IP) address.
This has stirred suspicions that Lee might have been involved in the fraudulent voting.
Lee, a former student activist who attended Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in the 1980s, denied this. He claims it’s common that a family has two or three UPP members and that these family members use the same computer when they cast their online votes.
This resulted in the use of the same IP address, he argued.
He also rejected calls for his resignation for the benefit of the third most popular party in the assembly.
“I won’t be forced to resign, even though chances are high that pressure on me to step down will be inevitable. I won’t give in,” he said.
Lee emphasized that he has no intention to resign, unless the UPP members and delegates vote to call him to quit at the national convention.
Pressure to step down has also been put on other UPP leadership members, including co-leader Lee Jung-hee, to take responsibility for the vote-rigging scandal.
Some allege Lee, a lawyer-turned-politician, is a puppet of the lawmaker-elect and she represents the vested interest of radical figures for fear of losing power to moderates inside the party.
The lawmaker-elect has political clout and exerts real influence, they said.
Analysts characterized the ongoing feud in the UPP as infighting between moderates, including Shim Sang-jung, and radicals such as co-leader Lee. The two groups are fighting to gain the upper hand in the leadership as the minor party is to pick a lineup of new leaders, they said.
Currently radicals exert real influence in the UPP. The ongoing infighting erupted as moderates attempt to take over power from radicals.
Lawmaker-elect Lee, who is widely viewed as one of core radicals, claimed he is a victim of the power struggle.
“I was stamped as a man having real power and responsible for the vote-rigging scandal, which is not true. I was also characterized as the man who orchestrated the irregularities, which is not true, either,” he said.
He also denies the allegation that he has maintained a pro-North Korea stance, saying his involvement in the spy scandal is “past tense” indicating he is not a pro-communist any more.