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Snubbing allegation escalates tension between main opposition chief, ex-prosecutor general Yoon

All News 15:13 August 09, 2021

SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- The war of nerves between Lee Jun-seok, head of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), and the leading opposition presidential hopeful Yoon Seok-youl appears to have escalated amid controversy over Yoon's alleged snubbing of the party chairman.

Yoon, former prosecutor general, announced his presidential bid in late June after resigning in March over a prolonged political feud with the administration over the ruling bloc's prosecution reform drive. The prosecutor-turned-politician, who dominated the top tiers in various presidential polls as an independent, joined the PPP late last month.

Despite being welcomed by the PPP leadership, his relationship with Lee is seen as having been tumultuous from the get-go, especially after Yoon's team broke the news of the candidate's party signup on July 30 while the chairman was away from party headquarters.

The two met days later at a welcome event and put on a cordial display for the camera, with Lee having thanked Yoon for joining and asked him to contribute to seeking a change of government.

The chairman, however, made his annoyance clear elsewhere.

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (L), a presidential hopeful of the opposition bloc, poses for a photo with Lee Jun-seok, leader of the main opposition People Power Party, as they meet at a restaurant in Seoul on July 25, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

"Certain aspects left much to be desired in terms of formalities. If there were rescheduling issues, (Yoon) should have consulted again (with the party)," Lee said in a radio interview last week. The tension flared up further after Yoon opted to skip a charity event for the party's presidential primary runners Wednesday.

To be clear, Yoon wasn't the only candidate to skip the event -- trailing rivals Choe Jae-hyeong, Hong Joon-pyo and Yoo Seong-min also didn't show up -- and his team argued that "allowing each contender to campaign individually can be more effective" for each team. But Yoon's absence was covered more conspicuously, widely interpreted as part of a larger struggle with the 36-year-old party chief.

The controversy was exacerbated after Yoon again stayed out of a party meeting joined by presidential hopefuls on Thursday and instead opted to go on a four-day vacation.

Uncomfortable exchanges between Lee and Team Yoon continued over the weekend, with Lee having raised allegations that the front-runner's team secretly requested rival candidates to also boycott party-led campaign events.

"I'm aware that (the boycott request) is true," Lee said in a media interview on Sunday. "The Fukushima statement was made in light of all this," the chairman added, in an apparent swipe aimed at Yoon's blundered media interview last week on the safety of Japan's crippled nuclear reactor.

Lee also told Yonhap News Agency that he "confirmed" the alleged boycott request and that he has received no explanation from Yoon's team.

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (L), a front-running presidential aspirant who has joined the main opposition People Power Party, poses for a photo with the party's leader, Lee Jun-seok, during their meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 2, 2021. (Yonhap)

Yoon's campaign, on the other hand, denied making any boycott requests to rival campaigns. But speculation has emerged that ex-Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong was the figure contacted by Yoon's team for the supposed boycott request.

Won neither acknowledged nor denied the speculation, which is being interpreted as a de facto confirmation, adding more fuel to the already volatile Lee-Yoon relationship.

The party leadership and Yoon's team engaged in damage control on Monday while Lee began his five-day summer vacation.

"All should remember that any action that does not help with our goal to achieve a change of government is an act that violates the party's interest," PPP supreme council member Kim Jae-won said. Floor leader Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon suggested that the Lee-Yoon conflict is a narrative framed by the media and a problem "that should be solved soon."

Shin Ji-ho, former PPP lawmaker and a member of Yoon's team, said the team will "faithfully comply with due procedures" after Yoon is officially registered as a party primary contender.

odissy@yna.co.kr
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