Defector-turned-lawmaker quits Supreme Council over controversial remarks

May 10, 2023

 Rep. Tae Yong-ho voluntarily resigned from the Supreme Council of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) on Wednesday as the party’s ethics committee was set to deliver disciplinary measures for him for making a series of controversial remarks.

The North Korean defector-turned-lawmaker made the decision in an apparent attempt to get the panel to take his voluntary resignation into consideration and reduce the level of a disciplinary measure for him so that he can seek reelection in next year’s general elections.

He cannot run in the elections if given a one-year party membership suspension or heavier punishment.

“I don’t want to put a burden on the party anymore,” Tae said in an emergency press conference. “I am going to resign from the Supreme Council position today. I am fully responsible for all the controversies so far.”

Tae also pledged to work for the success of the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol as it marks the first anniversary in office. He added there were no prior discussions with the presidential office about his decision.

The ethics committee, meanwhile, said Tae’s move is expected to influence its ruling, implying the possibility that the level of disciplinary measures could be lowered.

“As a member of the ethics committee, I think this attitude of taking political responsibility is very meaningful,” Rep. Jun Joo-hyae told reporters.

The decision is expected to be announced late Wednesday.

Tae was referred to the committee in part for displaying what critics say was a distorted history perception by insisting a civil uprising on the island of Jeju in the late 1940s was obviously triggered on the instruction of North Korea’s late national founder, Kim Il-sung.

He has also been under criticism over a phone conversation he had with senior presidential political affairs secretary Lee Jin-bok, in which Lee allegedly asked Tae to make remarks in support of Korea-Japan relations while talking about the issue of party nominations for next year’s general elections.

Tae talked about Lee’s alleged request during a meeting with his aides, and a local media outlet revealed the transcript of Tae’s remarks recorded by one of the aides. Tae has since denied Lee made such a request, saying he made an exaggeration of what was said during the call with Lee.

He also came under fire after branding the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) as “JMS DP,” referring to JMS, a controversial religious group embroiled in a series of sexual harassment cases involving its leader. Tae said J stands for junk, M for money and S for sex.

Tae, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, defected to South Korea in 2016 and was elected as a lawmaker here in 2020, becoming the first North Korean defector to do so.

The PPP runs a four-tier disciplinary system, which ranges from a warning to a maximum 3-year suspension in party membership, a recommendation to leave the party and an expulsion. A one-year party membership suspension or heavier disciplinary measures result in an inability to run for parliamentary elections.

The panel was also set to deliver a decision for another Supreme Council member, Kim Jae-won, for making controversial remarks.

Rep. Tae Yong-ho of the People Power Party speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul on May 10, 2023. (Yonhap)
Rep. Tae Yong-ho of the People Power Party speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul on May 10, 2023. (Yonhap)