Leftist party splitting up
Man sets fire to himself to protest reform move
By Lee Tae-hoon
The strife-ridden Unified Progressive Party (UPP) seemed to be on course for a break-up Monday after moderates passed a proposal to make Rep. Kang Ki-kab the leftist party’s emergency leader.
The decision came in a vote of 536-9 during an online meeting of the party’s highest decision making central committee.
They also approved a resolution, 541-4, that calls for the resignation of the party’s four co-leaders and all proportional lawmakers-elect over a vote rigging scandal.
However, members of the UPP’s main faction who have resorted to violence to block the launch of the interim leadership refused to accept the decision. They claimed that Internet voting is not legally valid as the gathering was not endorsed by the party’s headquarters.
A man, identified as a 43 year-old party member of the UPP, set himself on fire in front of the party’s headquarters in Daebang-dong, Seoul to protest the non-mainstream members’ move to push major reform in the far-leftist party.
He poured petrol over himself and set himself ablaze, shouting, “The central committee’s decision by the electronic vote is invalid.”
People around the scene put out the fire and he was taken to a hospital in Yeouido, where he is in critical condition.
Insiders say the factional feud between moderates and radicals may deepen as the latter denies the legitimacy of the central committee and any decisions reached by it.
Chang Won-seob, secretary general of the party and a member of the main faction, warned that the left-wing party will punish those participating in the online forum of the central committee.
He argued that Shim Sang-jung, Rhyu Si-min and Cho Joon-ho, who convened the meeting online in an apparent attempt to avoid a physical clash between party members, were not party leaders anymore as they had expressed their intent to step down.
“The legitimacy and credibility of an online poll cannot be ensured without the use of an electronic authentication system authorized by the party,” Chang said. He added that the identities of online voters cannot be verified.
He claimed that authority of Rep. Kang and other emergency committee members will be questioned as the online poll lacked legitimacy.
Rhyu and two other party leaders expressed strong discontent over Chang’s remarks, saying he was abusing his authority as secretary general.
“We passed a resolution that would dismiss Chang Won-seob based on the consensus that he should take responsibility for physically hampering the activities of the party’s leadership and chairs of the central committee,” they said in a statement.
Chang challenged the authority of Shim and Rhyu Sunday by shutting down the UPP website’s server through which the two convened the online forum of party members to discuss how to overcome the internal crisis.
Later on Monday, Chang offered his resignation saying the UPP is ditching its principle of paying greater attention to the voices of its party members than public opinion.
The mainstream members of the party, including Chang, claim that the election rigging was a minor human mistake and the party should strive to redeem its honor rather than forcing members to renounce their posts.
A spokesman of Lee Seok-gi, who won a proportional lawmaker seat in the flawed intraparty election, claimed that Lee and other lawmakers-elect will not respect the party’s decision for a mass resignation.
“We will only follow the decision made by party members,” he said, noting that the 953-member central committee lacks legitimacy to represent the opinion of party members.
Lee Sang-gyu, a lawmaker-elect of the UPP, also expressed his opposition to the central party’s decision, saying the online gathering was illegal.
Observers say Lee and some of the proportional lawmakers-elect will refuse to step down.
They point out that the central committee’s decision to make them renounce their legislative seats is not legally binding and any lawmakers-elect can keep their much coveted new jobs unless expelled from the UPP prior to the opening of the 19th National Assembly on May 30.
Meanwhile, The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the country’s second largest umbrella union group with more than 580,000 workers, announced that it will decide whether to withdraw its support for the pro-labor party in a general meeting of union leaders Thursday.
“The UPP crossed the line and must take responsibility for failing to live up to expectations,” a senior official of the KCTU said.
“We warned the party twice that we would withdraw our support unless it pushes reform to the level of creating a new party, but it completely ignored our message.”
Prosecutors also launched an investigation into a brawl during Saturday’s meeting of the central committee at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.
Scores of party members jumped onto the stage to block proceedings as Shim Sang-jeong tried to deliberate on critical issues, including the resignation of the four incumbent party leaders and proportional lawmakers-elect.
Rhyu, Shim and Cho were punched and kicked and as they tried to leave the room.