Progressives in feud over rigging
The mainstream and non-mainstream of the far-left Unified Progressive Party (UPP) are headed for a collision over the proposed mass resignation of the party’s leadership and proportional representatives.
Questions are also being raised whether such an extremely ideologically charged and dysfunctional political group created only five months ago through a merger of three minor parties can remain as one entity.
After hours of brawling and physical scuffles Saturday, the UPP’s National Steering Committee passed a resolution that recommended all four co-leaders and proportional representatives embroiled in a vote-rigging scandal to step down.
The decision was unanimously adopted by the second highest decision-making body of the party in a makeshift online vote, but it remains uncertain whether it will be endorsed in the leftist party’s highest-decision making Central Committee meeting on May 12.
Kim Jae-yeon, was placed third on the UPP's proportional representation list on the back of the party’s mainstream support, announced Sunday that she will not accept mass resignations.
“I have no reason to resign. I was elected a representative for young voters and have nothing to do with election fraud,” she said.
She argued that her party’s election watchdog informed her that it could not find any illegal activity involving her in its investigation.
Lee Seok-gi, who was placed second in a primary for the UPP’s proportional representatives and known as the head of its largest faction, is also refusing to give away his lawmaker seat in spite of the public uproar.
An insider of the UPP forecast more “ugly clashes” would take place between the dominant power of the UPP and its dissatisfied members, noting that hard core members of the mainstream, including Lee and Kim, insist that Saturday’s ruling was unacceptable.
Another party member noted that hawkish members of the party may continue to justify the use of violence and verbal abuse to achieve their self-righteous goal of making pro-North Korean figures and far-left centered labor activists elected members of the National Assembly.
“The extremist members of the party, most of whom are hailing from the pro-North Korean Democratic Labor Party, have been secluded from mainstream society so long that they are out of touch with reality and have a tendency to justify the use of violence in accomplishing their objectives,” he said.
The UPP has been under mounting criticism after an internal probe revealed that a breach of election rules occurred in 128 of 218 polling stations, and bogus votes accounted for more than half of the online voting for the selection of its proportional representative candidates.
Many radical members of the UPP have been stubbornly resisting the growing call for the mass resignation, saying the investigation results were grossly exaggerated and politically charged.
They even argue that fraudulent candidate selection has long been a widespread practice in liberal parties, and non-mainstream members of the UPP should stop making the incumbent leadership and proportional lawmakers-elect scapegoats of the latest revelation.
Political observers say that the party’s steering committee ruling showed that some of the mainstream of the UPP have begun to turn their backs on the extreme-left members of the party.
They suspect that the UPP may end up being split into two or more political groups if the party’s clandestine pro-North Korean group, which allegedly has had firm control over the party, continues to act against common sense and citizens’ wishes.
However, Rhyu Si-min, a co-leader of the UPP and former health and welfare minister, flatly denied any possibility of his nascent political party from being split over the largest election scandal.
“It is hard to find any reason to split the UPP,” he said. “I believe it is absolutely unlikely for the party to be divided.”
Party observers say that Rhyu made the remarks in hopes that the UPP, which won 13 seats including six from proportional representation in the April 11 National Elections, will retain at least 10 parliamentary seats.
“Signatures from 10 lawmakers are the minimum requirement for a bill to be submitted to the Assembly,” a senior UPP member said. “If the newly created UPP loses its political leverage to submit a bill, leftist political groups will not secure a firm footing in the Assembly for the next few decades.”
If the UPP’s Central Committee approves the recommendations, Rhyu and three other co-leaders will be asked to step down along with proportional candidates who were directly or indirectly involved in the election fraud.
Yet, it will be impossible for the party to take away parliamentary seats from lawmakers-elect unless they voluntarily resign or the UPP passes another resolution to strip them of their party membership before the 19th Assembly session begins on May 30.
Under the law, political parties have no authority to strip of parliamentary seats from their lawmakers.
Rhyu will be given a lawmaker seat should all of the proportional representative candidates suspected of being involved in the election fraud step down.
He was 14th on the UPP’s proportional candidates but one of the six UPP candidates picked based on past political career instead of a popularity vote.
The former health minister, however, made it clear that he will not accept the parliamentary seat, in order to take responsibility for the party’s ethical breach.
If all 14 proportional representative candidates quit as recommended and Rhyu turns down a lawmaker seat, the UPP will end up having a maximum of five proportional lawmakers.
“It is against the common sense and public morals for me to accept a seat,” Rhyu said. “If I reject the Assembly seat, the UPP will end up having one less seat, but this will serve as voluntary self-punishment.”
The UPP submitted its 20-member proportional representative candidate list to the National Election Commission ahead of the April 11 polls.
Of the 20, the party selected 14 based on the results of the allegedly fraudulent election, while the remaining six including Rhyu were nominated based on the party’s assessment of candidate qualifications.
Only those on the UPP’s representative candidate list can take over the role of a proportional lawmaker in the event of the latter’s resignation.