Photo: An Cheol-su (left) and Lee Jun-seok in happier times, c. 2021. Credit: People's Party.
At high-end restaurants in Seoul’s Yeouido 여의도 neighborhood, where the National Assembly 국회 is located, private rooms are a key amenity for politicians looking to speak frankly away from prying eyes and ears. Many restaurants in Yeouido don’t have any public dining areas at all, instead serving customers exclusively in enclosed rooms that offer diners a sense of privacy - even though sometimes the walls are thinner than political rivals may realize.
On November 6, Lee Jun-seok 이준석 and An Cheol-su 안철수 had an unfortunate encounter at a Yeouido restaurant. Lee, former leader of the ruling People Power Party 국민의힘, and An, a former minor center-right presidential candidate, have had a longstanding feud since their time together in the Bareun Party 바른정당, a transitory center-right party that briefly existed in the aftermath of Park Geun-hye 박근혜’s impeachment, largely as a home for conservatives who voted to impeach the president. After a bitter fight to take over the party, An left to form his own People’s Party 국민의당, while the remainder of the Bareun Party, including Lee, re-joined the main conservative party.
Lee and An were eating in private rooms next to each other at the same restaurant - known for its blowfish stew - in the company of friendly journalists. In Lee’s telling of the event, An spent more than 20 minutes loudly criticizing Lee, calling him a racist for addressing PPP official In Yo-han 인요한, a white doctor who is fourth-generation Korean, in English. In response, Lee shouted at the wall: “Mr. An Cheol-su, shut up. Please be quiet, I need to eat my lunch.” After a brief (and presumably surprised) silence, An apparently resumed where he left off: “See that? That’s why everyone hates him. Nobody is going to join his new party.” The two politicians reportedly left the restaurant separately after their meals, without any further encounters.