The South Korean National Assembly passed a motion to put main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung under arrest in a plenary session on Thursday with 149 in favor and 136 against – just one vote more than the required 148 votes in favor for the motion to pass. The resulting outcome showed that many DP lawmakers agreed on the arrest of their chairman, which consequently contributed to the first ever passage of a motion to arrest the main opposition party’s chairman since the beginning of the constitutional government. The same day a no-confidence motion passed the National Assembly calling for Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to resign as a result of the majority of DP and Justice Party members voting in favor with the ruling People Power Party in opposition, making him the first prime minister ever who faced the passage of a motion to resign.
Obviously, Lee deserves the motion approved on Thursday as he did not even keep his own words and attempted to weaponize the DP-controlled National Assembly in his own interest. Three months ago, he publicly declared to give up on immunity to arrest, saying, “If a warrant of arrest is issued, I can willingly cooperate to go through a substantive review of the arrest warrant. Contradicting himself on Wednesday, he asked DP lawmakers to go against the motion, arguing, “We should not help the politicized prosecution out with their plot investigation.” Deciding to take a life-or-death path and being on a hunger strike for more than 20 days, the leader of the main opposition party has been so hell-bent on getting away with his wrongdoings that he now finds himself in the trap of deathlike desperation for immunity.
With the court now in charge of deciding whether to place him under arrest, the main opposition is left caught up in the swirl of internal discord. Lee’s leadership is likely to be affected severely at a time when the party needs to gear up for the next year’s general elections. The party will inevitably suffer internal conflicts regarding a shift to an emergency planning committee and party nomination, which in the worst-case scenario can cause some members to leave the group to create a new party. However, all of such confusion can eventually lead the party to get an opportunity to reinvent and start over. The DP has said no to motions to arrest its members including Lee multiple times. Although the motion passed by a margin of one vote, this has at least helped the DP remove the negative stigma of a bulletproof party. Before it is too late, it should turn a new leaf in a bold way to win over the hearts of voters.
The two voting results, the first records ever since the constitutional government was founded, only demonstrate how South Korean politics has fallen into cutthroat competition and severe conflict. It may be too early to say that the voting results automatically justify the main opposition’s stringent attitude toward the ruling party and the prosecution’s investigations. Depending on the court’s decision to be made, the prosecution and furthermore the ruling party and their supporters overall could come under criticism for forcibly and excessively carrying out investigations. On the other hand, the ruling party should not dismiss the motion approved to force the prime minister to step down as a purposeful political offense to rescue Lee. Despite a slim chance that President Yoon will approve this motion, there should be a lesson learnt that helps reflect on how stubbornly and unilaterally governance has so far been managed.