January 12, 2024
SEOUL – Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Thursday officially announced that he is leaving the main opposition party and would launch a new party of his own, saying his mission is to reform the Korean political landscape.
“I will walk on the path of serving my country in a new way by leaving the Democratic Party of Korea, where I have served for the past 24 years,” Lee said in a press conference held at the National Assembly in Seoul.
“The Democratic Party has transformed into a personal party that only serves to defend a single man. The (spirit of democracy) heralded by its former leaders and Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun are long gone and has been replaced by violent and vulgar speeches,” he added.
Thursday’s announcement comes as the party’s current chairman, Lee Jae-myung, had refused to give up his power after the ex-prime minister last month asked him to step down from his current leadership position. Lee Nak-yon, who also led the party before the presidential election in 2022, had refrained from publicly discussing his decision to leave for nearly a week until Sunday, in apparent show of respect for Lee Jae-myung’s recovery from surgery following a knife attack on Jan. 2.
Lee Nak-yon stressed the need for both future and current leaders of new political parties to join hands to change the current state of the political landscape that is dominated by the two parties.
“I plan to create a new political force that can overcome the extreme rivalry of the divided parties, resolve issues in our nation and help improve the livelihoods of our people. Anyone who is willing to walk that path has to join forces.”
Other potential partners include the prominent members of the non-Lee Jae-myung faction that recently decided to quit the Democratic Party, according to the former premier. He specifically mentioned three now-ex-main opposition party members, Lee Won-wook, Kim Jong-min and Cho Eung-cheon, who announced their decision to leave the party on Wednesday.
In line with his plan, Lee Nak-yon had met with other future and current new party leaders on Tuesday in a show of solidarity against the current political system. Former People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok, New Party Co-Chairman Keum Tae-sup and Hope of Korea Chairman Yang Hyang-ja were present at the meeting tied to Yang’s book launch.
In response to the announcement, 129 Democratic Party lawmakers — the majority of the total 167 main opposition members — issued a joint statement requesting the ex-prime minister to stay in the party.
“The Democratic Party of Korea must not enter the path of division through the launch of a new party without cause,” the statement read.
“The divide within the party would only help the Yoon Suk Yeol administration,” it added.
The statement also criticized Lee Nak-yon for quitting the Democratic Party despite benefiting from his party membership throughout his career as a five-term lawmaker, governor of South Jeolla Province and prime minister. “(Lee) says he will quit our party after merely enjoying glory under the Democratic Party’s name and without sacrificing anything,” it lambasted.
On the ex-prime minister’s failed attempt to replace Lee Jae-myung, the lawmakers questioned the ex-premier’s intentions.
“Chairman Lee Jae-myung is a candidate for the upcoming presidential election backed by strong support from party members and voters alike,” they said.
Observers say that the main opposition bloc now faces a bigger rift among themselves, with several heavyweight lawmakers already having turned their backs in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party Floor Leader Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo demanded Thursday that police reveal the party affiliation of Lee Jae-myung’s assailant who stabbed the chairman during his trip to Busan on Jan. 2.
Recent media reports have suggested that the attacker was a longtime member of the ruling People Power Party. The ruling party countered the reports, saying that while they had noticed a supporter of the same name who withdrew his or her membership in 2020, it is uncertain whether the ex-member was the suspect himself.
Hong’s demands came a day after police announced the decision not to disclose the 67-year-old suspect’s party affiliation and identifying details.