Photo: Lee Jun-seok exits the ethics committee hearing. Credit: People Power Party.
The ruling People Power Party 국민의힘 suspended the party membership of its chairman Lee Jun-seok 이준석 over allegations that Lee had obstructed an internal investigation regarding his acceptance of sex as bribes. This is the first time in South Korea’s democratic history that a sitting party chairman has lost his membership; the PPP’s ethics committee suspended Lee for six months on July 8.
Lee started getting in hot water last month when a businessman who had sought to gain access to then-President Park Geun-hye 박근혜 당시 대통령 claimed that he paid for prostitutes for Lee more than 20 times in 2013. The PPP ethics committee, however, did not consider whether Lee in fact received sexual bribes; instead the committee penalized Lee for attempting to silence the businessman by promising to bring investment to his company.
Lee, who has had a tumultuous relationship with President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 대통령 and the conservative old guard, refused to resign despite calls by PPP Floor Leader Kwon Seong-dong 권성동 국민의힘 원내대표, a key Yoon ally, to do so. Lee argued that the party by-laws provide the party chairman with the authority to suspend any sanction, while Kwon argued Lee’s authority as the chairman is already suspended and he, Kwon, is the acting chairman of the party.
The suspension of Lee, who rose to prominence by catering to the misogynistic grievances of young Korean men, is likely to cause Yoon and the PPP to lose support from the young male demographic that they recently gained. (See previous coverage, “Rise of the Incels.”)