January 13, 2023
SEOUL – The head of main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, Rep. Lee Jae-myung asked for a meeting with President Yoon Suk Yeol on Thursday, saying the conservative administration was not making an effort to bring the parties together.
The party chair repeated his request for a meeting with the president at the press conference held just two days after he was summoned by prosecutors in an investigation into allegations that he solicited bribes while he was mayor of Seognam, Gyeonggi Province.
In September last year, police turned Lee over to prosecutors after finding he coerced a real estate developer to sponsor a soccer club run by Seongnam in return for favors from 2015 to 2017.
“I’ve already on many occasions proposed a meeting with the president. The proposal still stands,” Lee said. “This is the only administration that hasn’t met with the opposition leader for more than eight months since assuming office.”
Lee, however, turned down Yoon’s invitation to a New Year’s event on Jan. 2, and instead visited former Democratic Party President Moon Jae-in at his home in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province.
Lee, after initially claiming he wasn’t invited by Yoon, explained that he took issue with “some inadequacies in the process of the invitation.” His chief secretary had earlier said that the presidential office invited Lee “only through e-mail.” “It wasn’t even a phone call,” he said.
Lee said the current administration “has to put a stop to its one-sided politics and its scheme for bringing down the opposition.”
In a closed-door briefing held the same day, a Yoon press official said in response that the president was “always open to meeting with” the opposition party chair. “There isn’t anything specific that can be confirmed as of today,” the official added.
On Lee’s proposal for a meeting with Yoon, the ruling People Power Party’s interim chair Rep. Chung Jin-suk told reporters, “I don’t think this is a right time for the president to be meeting with a criminal suspect.”
Lee said at Thursday’s press conference that he was being “unfairly and groundlessly targeted by prosecutors.” He said that it was unfair that he is being compared to first lady Kim Keon Hee, who is also facing criminal allegations of her own.
“What I’m dealing with is prosecutors making up facts to attack me,” he claimed. “On the other hand, there is a lot of substantial evidence against the first lady.”
Although Lee’s party last year passed a “reform” law that significantly reduced prosecutorial powers to investigate, he said “even if there is a good system in place, at the end of the day, it’s about who is in charge.”
As a presidential candidate, Lee previously said lawmakers’ immunity from criminal liability or arrest must be forfeited. Asked if he was still willing to give up his immunity, he said he would “rather not comment” as the question was “hypothetical.”
“If it is a legitimate exercise of authority, then I of course would accept it,” he said. “Prosecutors have become puppets of power. What they’re doing isn’t an investigation, it’s politics. Since our country was democratized, never has the prosecution service abused its powers like this.”
Meanwhile, the party chair also proposed revising the Constitution to allow presidents to be elected for a maximum of two terms, with each term lasting four years. Currently in South Korea, presidencies are restricted to a single term of five years.
In Wednesday’s press conference Kim Jin-pyo, the National Assembly speaker, also called for parliamentary discussions to review changes in presidential term limits.
The presidential office said Thursday such a change has to be preceded by discussions at the parliamentary level.