PPP chief faces leadership crisis as drawn-out turf war with Yoon causes chaos

SEOUL-- The leadership of Lee Jun-seok, the young and unconventional chairman of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), has taken a major blow from a protracted power game with the party's leading presidential contender Yoon Seok-youl that has created unexpected ruptures and bad blood within the party.

The relationship between the two has been on shaky ground from the get-go since Yoon, previously an independent, joined the party in late July when Lee was away from the party headquarters on a business trip to provincial areas.

The tension escalated after the former prosecutor general skipped out on several publicity events for the party's potential presidential contenders, perceived as a sign of the candidate snubbing the 36-year-old PPP chairman and a power game ahead of the party's race to pick its presidential candidate.

Yoon's aides have opposed the idea of having contenders participate in such PR events, organized by the PPP's primary preparation committee, saying that they are unnecessary prior to the official registration for the party's primary. That argument was made more strongly after Yoon, a newcomer to politics, made a series of gaffes in the media and in public.

The discussion later led to a larger conversation questioning the role and authority of the committee, which prepared to host two debate sessions despite opposition not just from Yoon's camp but from rival presidential contenders as well.

Lee and Yoon later apparently tried to work things out, as the prosecutor-turned politician gave the chairman a phone call on Aug. 12, asking that they work together for the party's unity. On the debate controversy, Lee and Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, PPP floor leader, came up with a compromise of holding events to announce each candidate's political visions instead.

But in a strange twist, Rep. Suh Byung-soo, chairman of the PPP's primary preparation committee, over the weekend rejected the compromise proposal, insisting that "discarding the planned debates could cause new disorder." PPP's supreme council on Tuesday ultimately nixed the Wednesday debate.

But strong words were reportedly exchanged between Lee and several council members in the process.

Lee reportedly told some supreme council members to "get a grip" and gave "warnings" over their supposedly pro-Yoon stances, while Rep. Bae Hyun-jin stood up against the chairman for "causing unnecessary disorder" within the party from his "excessive appearance" in the media and "overuse" of social media.

Lee has also come under fire after being accused of having a tape recording and a transcript of his phone conversation with Yoon. The controversy erupted after an alleged transcript file of the Aug. 12 phone conversation circulated on social media over the past weekend.

The chairman denied having taped the conversation or produced a transcript file, saying that the document appears to have put together snippets of talks between him and over 60 reporters who spoke with him on the topic. Yoon, in an apparent jab against Lee, stated that the PPP "must be firmly armed with a sense of fairness and common sense" in order to achieve a change of administration.

More allegations involving phone talks and, strangely enough, linguistics piled up on Tuesday after former Jeju Province Gov. Won Hee-ryong, a PPP presidential hopeful, disclosed details of Lee's supposed negative view toward Yoon.

Won stated that he was told by Lee in private on Aug. 12 that the ex-prosecutor general "will soon be removed" from the primary race. "I was shocked by (the chairman) speaking in that way toward a certain runner," Won added.

Late Tuesday, Lee responded by sharing a partial transcript of his conversation with Won on social media, which read "That will soon be removed." Lee claimed that Won misunderstood, as he meant to refer to Yoon's conflict with the party during the primary process, not the candidate himself, by "that."

Won, however, is not buying Lee's explanation and has demanded that the party chairman release a full transcript of the conversation.

"I say this clearly and by betting on my memory and conscience. The subject of 'soon be removed' part is candidate Yoon Seok-youl," Won stated in a press conference held Wednesday.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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