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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Dec. 6)

Politics 06:59 December 06, 2022

The silence of Lee Jae-myung

On his 100th day in office, Democratic Party (DP) Chair Lee Jae-myung strongly criticized the government and People Power Party (PPP). In a Supreme Council meeting on Monday, he denounced the Yoon Suk-yeol administration for "the disappearance of dialogue and compromise in politics" over the past 200 days of the conservative administration. Lambasting the government for "abuse of power and fear mongering," Lee vowed to "protect democracy from being suffocated." He also took pride in doing "my utmost to prioritize people's livelihood above all else."

However, his scorecard points in the other direction. The DP should have benefitted from President Yoon's low approval rating still in the 30 percent range, but the support rate (33 percent) for the liberal party is even lower than the PPP's 35 percent in a recent Gallup Korea poll. Also, only 31 percent of the moderates backed the DP, though the figure is slightly higher than the number for the PPP. But it stops short of representing Lee's success in extending the DP's support base.

A primary reason for the growing or stagnant unpopularity for the DP is undoubtedly so-called judicial risks from the successive arrests of Lee's aides for a plethora of allegations against him. Despite the Daejang-dong development scandal involving Lee as Seongnam mayor in the mid-2010s and his subsequent defeat in the Mar. 9 presidential election as DP's candidate, Lee ran in a constituency with no connection with him in a by-election on June 1 and was elected lawmaker in the National Assembly for the first time. He then ran for the chairmanship of the embattled party and won. Now, the DP itself is undermined by a risky chairman. On Monday, he did not even hold a press conference marking his 100th day as head of the DP to avoid thorny questions from reporters about his apparent involvement in approving the profitable redevelopment project.

Chairman Lee must reflect on why a party holding a majority in the legislature could not get support from voters. The party unilaterally passed controversial bills — including one enforcing government purchase of rice in excess and changing the governance structure of public broadcasters in the DP's favor — in standing committees without any discussion with the governing party. That's not all. The DP is engrossed in increasing government spending to help Lee's campaign promises while slashing budget proposals from the government.

To get support from voters, Lee must make clear his position on a number of suspicions raised against him instead of avoiding them or keeping mum. The truth will be found in the ongoing trial process, but he must tell his side of truth if he is really a statesman.

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