January 11, 2024
SEOUL – Three lawmakers on Wednesday said they were leaving the Democratic Party of Korea, marking yet another departure of longtime lawmakers from the main opposition that controls a clear majority in the National Assembly.
Announcing their decision to leave the Democratic Party they had long been part of, Reps. Lee Won-wook, Kim Jong-min and Cho Eung-cheon cited their disagreements with the party’s chair, Rep. Lee Jae-myung, and the way he is running the party.
The lawmakers, prominent members of the party’s non-Lee Jae-myung faction, told a press briefing on this day that their calls for steering the party away from “fandom politics and crony politics” had been “repeatedly snubbed.”
“The Democratic Party has degenerated into a party for rallying around leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung, rather than standing up to the incompetence of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration,” they said in a joint statement.
“This is why despite Yoon’s high disapproval ratings, our party is failing to win the support of the South Korean public. We have become a party that is more invested in serving the interests of our leader, rather than those of the people.”
December polls by Gallup Korea found the Democratic Party to be behind the ruling People Power Party in support ratings by two percentage points.
Some Democratic Party lawmakers not aligned with the mainstream pro-Lee Jae-myung faction have said the party’s willingness to accede to the demands of Lee supporters was silencing them from voicing objections or disagreements.
“The Democratic Party, given the way it is being taken over by Lee superfans, is a sinking ship and Lee is taking the party down with him,” one of the non-Lee Jae-myung lawmakers had said in a previous conversation with The Korea Herald.
Wednesday’s departure will add to the growing challenges facing Lee and his hold on the party.
In anonymous interviews with the press, some lawmakers from his own party have suggested Lee, who has been mired in several criminal investigations and trials, step down from chair position before the April general election.
Lee’s slipping grip on the party became more apparent in September last year when the bill for consent for his arrest warrant was passed in an anonymous vote by the Assembly, where 56 percent of the seats are held by the Democratic Party. The passage of the bill surprised the Democratic Party leadership, which had vowed to use its majority in the Assembly to strike the bill down.
Lee, however, has made it clear he has no intentions of resigning as the Democratic Party chair. In November, he put himself in charge of the party committee for recruiting candidates for the upcoming general election — a key body that is responsible for deciding who gets to run.
Earlier this week, Rep. Lee Sang-min, who had stuck with the Democratic Party through five terms, left the party to join the People Power Party, also citing his political differences with the main opposition head.
“Being called a traitor by Chairman Lee Jae-myung and his allies is an honor,” he said in a radio interview Wednesday.