Opposition leader asks Yoon to agree to special probe, resolve family issues

April 29, 2024

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung asked President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday to agree to a special probe into suspicions surrounding a Marine’s death and to resolve suspicions surrounding his family in an apparent reference to first lady Kim Keon Hee.

Lee made the demands during his first-ever meeting with Yoon at the presidential office, which followed the ruling People Power Party’s humiliating defeat to Lee’s Democratic Party (DP) in the April 10 parliamentary elections.

Lee also asked that the president accept his election pledge to give 250,000 won (US$182) in cash handouts to the entire population and agree to a special bill aimed at determining the truth behind the 2022 Itaewon crowd crush that left 159 people killed.

“I ask that you actively accept the special counsel investigation bill for Marine Chae and the special bill for the Itaewon tragedy,” the DP leader said, referring to Cpl. Chae Su-geun, who was killed last July during a search mission for downpour victims.

He further asked that the president express regret for previously vetoing bills and promise to respect the decision of the National Assembly in the future.

“I also believe it would be good if you could take this opportunity to resolve various allegations surrounding people around you, including your family, which are a major burden on the running of government affairs,” Lee said.

Though he stopped short of naming the people, Lee was apparently referring to his party’s calls for a special probe into allegations of stock price manipulation involving the first lady.

Lee also asked Yoon to accept his cash handout pledge.

“I ask that you actively consider the emergency measure to restore people’s livelihoods, which was proposed by our Democratic Party,” the DP leader said, specifically proposing the government distribute the cash in the form of local business vouchers so the benefit can be felt directly by small business owners and other vulnerable groups.

He also promised the DP’s active cooperation on the government’s medical reform plans, including its decision to increase admissions to medical schools.

“I think a good solution will be found if the ruling and opposition parties, and the medical community, jointly discuss the issue” at a special parliamentary committee proposed by the DP, he said.

Lee listed a series of other issues, including those related to foreign policy, saying he hopes Yoon will consider shifting to a “national interest-centered practical diplomacy” and make active efforts to ensure “the people’s pride is not damaged with regard to relations with Japan,” citing Tokyo’s territorial claims to South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo, the two countries’ shared history and the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The meeting was held over tea and lasted over two hours, with Yoon and Lee accompanied by three aides each. Yoon was joined by his chief of staff Chung Jin-suk, senior political secretary Hong Chul-ho and senior public relations secretary Lee Do-woon. Lee was joined by his chief of staff Cheon Jun-ho, DP chief policymaker Jin Sung-joon and senior DP spokesperson Park Sung-joon.

Cooperating with the opposition bloc has become ever more important for Yoon as he will have to work with an opposition-controlled National Assembly for the remaining three years of his single, five-year term. The DP held a majority in parliament during his first two years in office as well.

The meeting, the first since Yoon came into office in May 2022, was seen as a test of how much the two sides are willing to cooperate on politics and government affairs.

“I would like you to respect the National Assembly and acknowledge the opposition party as a partner in state affairs,” Lee said. “If you try to make the National Assembly and the opposition party surrender with your executive power, it will not be easy to succeed in state affairs.”