(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Oct. 16)

Take your eyes off the president

After the crushing defeat in the by-election for the head of the Gangseo district in western Seoul last week, the People Power Party (PPP) held an emergency meeting on Sunday to find ways to recover public trust in the governing party. The PPP decided to oust all lawmakers appointed by its head from their party posts and replaced them with lawmakers with seats representing districts in Seoul and the Gyeonggi province.

But if PPP lawmakers continue keeping their eyes on President Yoon Suk Yeol without accurately delivering public sentiments to him, no prescriptions will work. Legislators have the responsibility to check the executive branch regardless of their party affiliations. Nevertheless, members of the PPP shunned it to invite the opposition's ridiculing the party as a "liaison office of the presidential office at Yongsan."

Such a farce mostly originated from Yoon's preference for PPP lawmakers who faithfully follow his instruction. Otherwise, they received a penalty from the conservative president. After controversial PPP Chair Lee Jun-seok was driven out of the party earlier this year, the president sent to the then-floor leader a text message praising him for "expelling the party leader bent on attacking the conservative party." A senior aide to the president even told a candidate for the new party leadership not to provoke the president. Former floor leader Na Kyung-won decided to not run for the party leadership after being criticized for "behaving like the head of an anti-Yoon faction."

As a result, the governing party has degenerated into a body of lawmakers blindly following whatever the president says. Current PPP Chair Kim Gi-hyeon stirred controversy after overly bending his waist whenever he met the president. Key posts in charge of nominations for the next parliamentary election on April 10 were also taken up by close aides to the president. After controversy arose over the president's sudden instruction to eliminate so-called "killer questions" from the college entrance exam, the policy chief of the PPP extolled the president as an "expert in college admissions," citing his earlier investigation as the prosecutor general into the Cho Kuk family's college entrance scams. That's not all. Even when 70 percent of the people worried about a lack of government reaction to Tokyo's release of the contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, PPP lawmakers were busy accompanying the president to sushi-eating events to show there were no health threats from the discharge.

Unless the PPP changes such behavioral patterns, it will most likely be defeated by the DP in the next election. If the PPP's image as a submissive party to the president consolidates further, the voters cannot but perceive the election as a contest between the DP and the president, not between the DP and the PPP. A recent Gallup Korea poll showed Yoon's approval rating at 33 percent while disapproval rating stood at 58 percent. In last week's by-election, the gap between the DP and PPP candidates was 17.15 percentage points.

The PPP must deliver the public sentiment to the president precisely. If PPP members are only interested in getting nominations in the next election, the nightmare of the Gangseo district will befall them at any time.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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