Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 19)

All News 07:01 May 19, 2023

Opposition at crossroads
DPK tainted by number of corruption charges

President Yoon Suk Yeol's approval rating has hovered at around 30 percent since he took office a year ago, which is the lowest among recent presidents.

It is now approaching 40 percent for the first time, however.

But the rise is not due to Yoon's diplomatic feats as he wants everyone to believe. Yoon is moving too close to the U.S. and too far from China, making even experts sympathetic to him tilt their heads. Instead, Yoon turning a blind eye to all disadvantaged groups, such as unionized workers, farmers and nurses, has rallied his conservative support base.

There is a far more decisive factor ― the self-harming main opposition party. The approval rating of the Democratic Party of Korea has fallen to the low 30 percent range. That of its leader, Lee Jae-myung, is even lower. The center-of-left DPK is at a crossroads with its very existence at risk.

On Wednesday, the party decided to refer Rep. Kim Nam-kuk, a DPK member until a few days ago, to the National Assembly's ethics committee due to his suspicious cryptocurrency transactions.

Lee made the decision belatedly and reluctantly after dragging his feet for weeks. Kim, one of Lee's confidants, owned 6 billion won ($4.5 million) worth of coins, which is a large amount considering his pretense of frugality. Suspicions abound over the sources of his funds, possible access to inside information and conflict-of-interest issues. The first-term lawmaker even traded coins even during National Assembly sessions.

Kim is only the latest such figure. Lee's immediate predecessor is suspected of "distributing envelopes" to party members in 2021. Lee and the DPK gave up questioning the money-for-party-chairmanship scandal and turned it over to the prosecution, the party's archenemy group.

There were two conjectures as to why the party did that.

First, the DPK could not uncover all recipients of bribes, who will "come up like a stalk of sweet potatoes," as an old Korean saying goes. Second, Lee could not do so, because his conscience would not let him.

And herein lie the fundamental problem and limitation of the DPK today.

Since he was a presidential candidate, Lee has been saddled with judicial risks. He still visits prosecutors' offices often to be questioned about various charges. Most visible is a land deal and development corruption scandal in Seongnam, south of Seoul, which started while he was mayor. After Lee took the party's helm a year ago, despite his defeat in the presidential election, the DPK turned the legislative body into what's been called a "bulletproof assembly" to prevent Lee's arrest. He barely escaped one such attempt recently.

The DPK cannot continue this way much longer.

Lee might have felt he had too much to lose to leave politics, given the razor-thin margin of 0.73 percent by which he lost last year's presidential election. "I will not avoid but instead confront problems and take responsibility (for the election loss) not with words but with actions," Lee said. One year has passed, but things turned out contrary to Lee's expectations.

Prosecutor-turned-President Yoon has not met with the opposition leader for 387 days and counting, citing his status as a suspect. That is Yoon's problem. But Lee's problem is more serious. Lee's criticism of the president have won him the sympathy of many voters. Still, more and more people are telling Lee, "Solve your problems first."

A progressive party that lost its moral high ground has nowhere to go. There are few substantive differences between the two mainstream parties by Western standards. But there is an unfounded belief among Korean voters that the center-right party is competent, while the center-left party is clean(er).

Lee should have left the scene after the election, if temporarily. He must solve his problems outside of politics. If he cannot do so there, he must not try it within the political community ― if he prioritizes his party and the country ahead of himself. One year is not a long time, but the DPK, under a new leader, can restart after being born again before the parliamentary polls.

The president's many mistakes kept Lee from changing himself and his party. However, the inept Lee and the DPK have failed to change Yoon and his government.

The latter fault is far greater.

Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!