+ A

DP turns down Moon critics’ applications to join party

Jan 15,2019
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Sunday rejected the applications of two independent lawmakers who filed to join its ranks.

Reps. Lee Yong-ho and Son Kum-ju announced they were applying to join the DP on Dec. 28 last year after quitting the now-disbanded People’s Party (PP) last February. Both lawmakers have criticized the Moon Jae-in administration.

With just over a year left until the next legislative elections in 2020, many political analysts interpreted their move as an attempt to jump on the DP’s bandwagon to keep their seats in the National Assembly.

Though the duo initially said their application had been submitted with “sufficient agreement” by party leadership, a DP committee tasked with evaluating their applications decided to reject them Sunday due to strong opposition among rank-and-file party members.

“From an assessment of records submitted by the applicants, past statements and behavior, as well as their legislative activities, we have confirmed they have acted in ways not befitting our party’s platform,” said Yun Ho-jung, the DP’s secretary general. “We have judged the applicants are not yet ready to be party members and so we have decided to not allow Rep. Son to enter the party and Rep. Lee to rejoin the party.”

The two lawmakers acquiesced to the decision Monday, calling it “regrettable.”

Lee and Son’s disqualification - which was reportedly supported by such key DP figures as floor leader Hong Young-pyo - can be attributed to the duo’s past defiance of the DP as members of its splinter party, the PP.

Both Lee and Son hold seats in the Jeolla region, a traditional stronghold of the DP. Both North and South Jeolla overwhelmingly voted for the PP in an upset result during the 2016 parliamentary elections.

While it emerged as the third largest party in the Assembly in those elections, the PP ultimately failed to survive as a viable alternative to the DP or the major conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), largely due to a series of disappointing electoral performances since then.

Son, as the PP’s main spokesman, became associated with the party’s criticism of President Moon. Son once called Moon “egoistic” over his selection of a liberal judge as a nominee for a seat on the Constitutional Court.

Of the two, however, Lee is almost certainly the more disliked in the DP, largely because he once defected from the party and has frequently and fiercely criticized Moon.

Lee was also embroiled in a fierce online scuffle with the president’s supporters following Moon’s visit to China in 2017, when he decried the administration’s lackluster reaction to an assault by Chinese security guards against a Korean journalist covering Moon’s visit to Beijing.

The pro-Moon faction - the largest force in the ruling party - was reportedly firmly against the two lawmakers’ applications. Rep. Choi Jae-sung, one of the most prominent pro-Moon lawmakers, openly announced his opposition to admitting the two to the DP earlier this month.

With the party’s support riding on the president’s coattails and much of its membership loyal to Moon, there was little likelihood that the DP leadership would have let Son and Lee in.

Another factor in the DP’s decision to rebuff the two independent lawmakers may be due to its tenuous partnership with the Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP), one of two splinter parties associated with the PP along with the Bareunmirae Party. The PDP had been actively courting the two figures. With no clear majority in the National Assembly, the DP is forced to cater to the whims of junior liberal partners like the PDP in order to pursue its legislative agenda.

As Korea’s conservatives are increasingly coalescing around the LPK, Sunday’s decision reduces the likelihood of partisan shuffling among liberals despite growing concern in the DP that their share of seats may dip below the right’s. Online supporters of the DP, however, welcomed the decision, with commenters saying the “opportunist” lawmakers will receive their due at the ballot box next year.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]