South Korea ruling party acting leader Kweon offers to quit amid infighting

People Power Party acting leader Kweon Seong-dong offered to resign on July 31, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The acting leader of South Korea's ruling party offered to resign over in-fighting in the People Power Party, adding to the growing woes for new President Yoon Suk-yeol, whose approval ratings have plunged to historic lows.

"Our party is currently facing a grave crisis," Mr Kweon Seong-dong, the acting leader of the People Power Party, said in his social media account on Sunday (July 31). "As the representative of the party, I am fully responsible for what has been going around."

Mr Kweon's offer to quit comes less than a month after 37-year-old party leader Lee Jun-seok was suspended for six months over an alleged sex scandal, which he claims was a political set-up by Mr Yoon's inner circles.

At least three PPP lawmakers have resigned from their leadership posts since Friday. The party is set to appoint an interim leader to guide until the next primary, which is yet to be scheduled, or until Lee returns to his seat.

Last week, text messages between Mr Kweon and Mr Yoon were leaked to the media and appeared to show the two expressing their pleasure at the change in the party's leadership.

Mr Kweon apologized almost immediately, and the presidential office defended Mr Yoon, saying it would be "inappropriate" to read too much into the text messages.

The approval ratings for the president, his government and the party have plunged since the messages were released.

The conservative-backed administration' approval rating has sunk to 28 per cent, while 62 per cent were dissatisfied with Mr Yoon, according to a tracking poll by Gallup Korea Friday.

The approval rating of the PPP dropped to 36 per cent, continuing its slide since winning the mayoral elections in June, according to the poll. The party is now tied with the main opposition Democratic Party, which which has shown an overall rise.

The poll numbers are raising doubts about whether Yoon and his party can recover from the turmoil.

While Yoon and the PPP spend precious political capital over reforms, he's facing increasing public anger over inflation and runaway urban real estate prices.

Adding to the ruling party's internal squabbles - including the president's struggles to relocate the presidential offices and follow through on a pledge to close the Gender Equality Ministry - South Korea's cabinet passed a measure last Tuesday endorsing the establishment of what would be known as a police bureau, in which the government's Interior Ministry would oversee aspects of the law enforcement agency.

Scores of senior police officers have protested the move, claiming it would compromise their neutrality and hearkens back to the days of dictators.

The main conservative party rebranded itself as the PPP two years ago, carrying on a local political tradition of trying to show a new focus by running under a new name.

The conservatives are attempting to appeal to younger voters who may still be wary about the right's historical ties to big business and the military-backed government that suppressed civil rights until the late 1980s.

Its then interim leader Kim Chong-in made a surprise move when he visited a cemetery in Gwangju that honours those killed in South Korea's democracy movement in the 1980s, becoming the first major conservative party leader to offer contrition at a site that is at the heart of the progressive movement.

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