Youngest opposition chief’s leadership hits snag over controversial steps

SEOUL-- The leadership of the country's youngest-ever main opposition chief is being brought into question over a string of controversial political steps, one month after he rose to the party's top seat with a big media splash.

Lee Jun-seok, chairman of the People Power Party (PPP), drew a major backlash not only from the ruling bloc but also inside his own party over a misguided agreement with his ruling party counterpart a day earlier to provide COVID-19 relief funds to all citizens.

Lee and Rep. Song Young-gil, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), reached a surprise consensus over dinner Monday to give the handouts to the entire nation as part of the upcoming round of the COVID-19 response extra budget.

In less than two hours, however, senior PPP spokeswoman Hwangbo Seung-hee took back the announcement, saying the party only left open the possibility of universal relief payment, given that the DP accepts its call for expanded financial assistance to smaller merchants ravaged by the pandemic.

A wave of criticism from senior PPP members followed, with Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong, a PPP presidential contender, saying, "It was a disappointing judgment." Three-term lawmaker Cho Hae-jin warned that Lee "should be more careful about what he says."

Kim Jae-won, a member of the party's supreme council, also pointed out Lee's decision was unfairly made without consultation with the party's floor leadership in advance. "The extra budget is in the realm of the floor leader, (Lee) needs correct awareness about that," Kim told Yonhap News Agency.

Critics and some party members hinted that the backlash may reflect brewing frustration in the party with Lee's untested leadership.

Grabbing news headlines in and outside the country, the 36-year-old Lee defeated established senior rival candidates to become the chairman of the biggest conservative party last month as the youngest-ever politician to lead a mainstream party in the history of South Korea's modern politics.

A series of controversial political moves by Lee, however, gave rise to skepticism about his leadership.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Lee called China's handling of the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests "cruelty." In his first in-person meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming on Monday, Lee again brought up the Hong Kong issue, sparking reactions from political and diplomatic circles that it was an "unsophisticated" attitude as the head of a mainstream political party.

Last week, Lee also called for abolishing the country's gender equality and unification ministries, reportedly without prior consultation with the party leadership, triggering criticism of being imprudent.

"Lee, being the commander of a (major) political party, is fighting as if he is a foot soldier," a sitting lawmaker told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity. "Party chairman is not a position to fight as if in a debate competition but one that comes up with a big, well-contemplated move."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

Recent POSTS