South Korean PPP Leader Rejects President’s Request to Step Down

Joshua Paulo
Joshua Paulo
Combining a Criminal Justice and International Relations background, Josh boasts years of experience in various forms of analysis and freelance journalism. He currently spearheads a team of professionals committed to delivering unbiased reporting to provide the public and private sector with accurate and insightful information. Josh serves as Atlas's Director of News.

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People Power Party (PPP) interim Chair Han Dong-hoon said Monday that he has rejected a request from President Yoon Suk Yeol to step down, giving rise to signs of infighting in the ruling party.

Han Rejects the Request:

Han told reporters, the former justice minister and a close confidant of the president told reporters, “As far as I know, my term continues until after the general elections,” adding, “I will not talk about details because I rejected the resignation request.”

“I assumed this position with the determination to invest all my efforts, and I believe I have given my best thus far. I am committed to showcasing the party’s transformation to the public, aiming to prevent the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) from causing hardship to the people and jeopardizing the country’s future,” he stated.

Why the President Requested This:

The official reasoning behind the request, according to party loyalists, is due to Han’s support of controversial candidates. Sources within the president’s office said Han’s recent public endorsements of Kim Kyung-yul, a member of the PPP’s interim leadership committee, and Won Hee-ryong, the former land minister, as candidates in the upcoming elections are what drew the president’s ire. Yoon allegedly stated to his inner circle that Han should “consult with the heavyweights in recommending candidates.”

Despite this, many believe it’s due to Han’s criticism of first lady Kim Keon Hee and a scandal involving her accepting a Christian Dior bag as a gift from a Korean-American pastor, raising concerns that she had violated anti-graft legislation. The handbag is valued at around 3 million won, or $2,240 USD.

President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee sit in a vehicle after arriving at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for their state visit to the Netherlands, Dec. 12, 2023. Yonhap
President Yoon and first lady Kim Keon Hee during a state visit to the Netherlands in December 2023. (Photo – Yonhap)

Han has been flexible on the controversy, siding mostly with the president but admitting that the issue is “a matter of public concern.” He also stated that the handling of the controversy was done poorly by the President’s Office.

The state run Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission said on January 18 that it is opening a probe into the matter.

The claim originally surfaced from a liberal-leaning YouTube news channel, Voice of Seoul, which showed the first lady receiving the gift. The video was later outed to have been a set up with a spy-camera.

Many political figures have called for a public apology from the presidential couple. The ensuing controversy has led to a stark divide in the party at a time when they require unity in order to maintain their seats in the upcoming legislative election, scheduled for April 10.

It should be noted that Han Dong-hoon was appointed in December to this position and was, at the time, heavily criticized by the opposition for being a puppet of the president. Neutral or favorable parties considered him President Yoon’s protege, highlighting the unexpectedness of this inter-party fight. Han was also appointed to the position of Minister of Justice in May 2022 and is still in that post while being the interim Chair for the PPP.

The Upcoming Legislative Elections:

The risk of an ongoing feud between Yoon and Han may significantly impact the PPP’s election campaigns. Without a Han step-down, the infighting is expected to intensify as conflicts arise among Yoon loyalists, former presidential office officials, and newcomers recruited by Han during the party’s candidate recommendation and nomination processes. This internal strife within the ruling party could undermine its cohesion and strategic focus leading up to the upcoming general elections.

Captured image of Change.org petition demanding Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reconsider the admission of the daughter of South Korean Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon. Screen captured from Change.org
Justice Minister and PPP Chair Han Dong-hoon. Photo – (Korea Times/Seo Jae-hoon)

Political analysts also raise concerns that a heightened clash between Yoon and Han may give rise to criticisms that the president is actively trying to manipulate or influence the outcome of the elections. The accusations of interference could further erode public trust in the ruling party with just over two months remaining until the general elections.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), has taken the opportunity to crackdown on the PPP and boost their own polling. Chairman Lee Jae-myung has publicly characterized Yoon’s actions as “blatant interference” in the electoral process. The DPK claim underscores the potential broader implications of the controversy, indicating that it may not only affect the internal workings of the PPP but could also have consequences for the democratic integrity of the upcoming elections.