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[Seoulitics] Shifting Dynamics in South Korean Politics: The Rise of Lee Jun-seok and Han Dong-hoon

Emerging Leaders Amidst Political Turbulence: Lee Jun-seok and Han Dong-hoon's Ascendancy

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Generated by Midjourney. Han Dong-hoon(left) and Lee Jun-seouk


Redefining Political Narratives: The Impact of Lee and Han on South Korea's Political Dialogue


Bradley Park

NJT Senior Writer 


Seoul, South Korea — In South Korean politics, two figures currently dominate public interest: Lee Jun-seok and Han Dong-hoon.


This focus is notable as it is not on the last presidential election's leading candidates, Yoon Suk Yeol from the People Power Party and Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party, but on these two individuals.


Discussions surrounding Yoon Suk Yeol are mainly negative, often related to various scandals, including his wife's stock manipulation case and criticism over his domestic governance. Lee Jae-myung, meanwhile, is continually burdened by legal risks, with news coverage frequently focused on internal party divisions.


The South Korean electorate's shift in attention to Lee Jun-seok and Han Dong-hoon is significant. They are viewed as potential future leaders, contrasting with the present top figures whose leadership qualities are increasingly questioned. South Korea's political landscape is sharply divided, with about 30% steadfastly supporting either conservative or progressive ideologies. However, the centrist bloc, accounting for roughly 40% of the electorate, shows particular interest in Lee Jun-seok and Han Dong-hoon.


This interest stems from their disenchantment with the People Power Party and the Democratic Party and a preference to vote based on policies rather than party loyalty.


Lee Jun-seok, the former leader of the People Power Party, garners attention for his rational speech and data-driven analyses. His accurate prediction of his party's defeat in a recent Gangseo District by-election, which aligned closely with the result, highlights his analytical prowess. This by-election was perceived as a referendum on President Yoon's performance, and the defeat was a significant blow to both Yoon and his party, spurring efforts for party innovation.


Han Dong-hoon, the current Minister of Justice, is similarly known for his logical discourse. His prominence has grown through his detailed rebuttals in legislative audits and responses to media queries. There is speculation that the President is positioning him as a potential future presidential candidate. His support base includes the conservative core and a section of the centrist voters.


Both Lee and Han, however, face distinct challenges. Lee has been criticized for his inability to fully move away from the conservative base's strong 30% support and is seen as indecisive by some centrists. Han, gaining popularity, is nonetheless affected by his association with the controversies surrounding President Yoon, potentially impacting his political trajectory.


Han is notably a key figure in allegations of evidence manipulation in the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, a critical controversy. The controversy surrounding the alleged manipulation of a tablet PC, as detailed by Byun Hee-jae of Media Watch in two books based on computer forensic investigations, has become a significant vulnerability for Han Dong-hoon.


Byun has been vocal in his criticism, staging protests in front of Han's residence at Tower Palace and threatening to reveal further details about the tablet PC manipulation if he decides to run in the next general elections. Byun has issued a stark warning, stating that if Han Dong-hoon runs in the upcoming general elections, he too will run in the same region and fully expose the alleged manipulation of a tablet PC. This bold declaration comes amidst frequent defamation lawsuits involving Han Dong-hoon, the Minister of Justice. Byun's adamant stance, combined with Han Dong-hoon and Yoon Suk Yeol's silence on these allegations, fuels speculation that there might be truth to these claims. 


Byun has repeatedly stated that his actions are not motivated by personal political ambitions but rather by a desire to bring Han Dong-hoon and Yoon Suk Yeol to justice.


Lee Jun-seok, a key figure in drawing the youth vote, which contributed significantly to the People Power Party's victories in the presidential and local elections, faced allegations of evidence tampering. These accusations, spearheaded by the Garo Sero Institute, involved Lee supposedly instructing Kim Chul-geun, the political affairs chief of the party, to destroy evidence related to a sex-for-favor scandal.


Consequently, Lee was suspended from party membership for six months, which was extended to a year for additional infractions. This disciplinary action suggests potential influence from Yoon Suk Yeol, as hinted at in a phone conversation between Yoon and a party official before his presidential candidacy, where they seemingly downplayed Lee's role and influence within the party.


Yoon Suk Yeol's administration faced dwindling support from young and centrist voters, leading to a panicked response and the formation of an innovation committee. Despite efforts to reconcile with Lee Jun-seok, including overtures from the committee's chair, John Linton, an American-Korean, Lee has repeatedly stated that he would not return to the People Power Party unless there were significant changes from Yoon Suk Yeol, even working harder for forming a new party.


In the political sphere, Ha Tae-Kyung, a member of the People Power Party, expressed concerns during an interview with CBS's YouTube channel 'No Cut.' He warned that if Lee Jun-seok, alongside former member Yoo Seung-min, were to establish a new party, it could lead to the People Power Party losing a significant number of its seats in the next general election, potentially dropping below the threshold needed to prevent impeachment. Ha emphasized that even if an impeachment motion doesn't pass the Constitutional Court, it could still suspend the President's duties, plunging South Korea into a prolonged period of turmoil. He stressed the importance of uniting with Lee Jun-seok for the President's sake and the country's political stability.


A survey conducted by News Tomato and Media Tomato revealed that 16% of respondents would support a new centrist conservative party led by Lee Jun-seok. This level of support, though significant, is limited by perceptions of Lee's potential return to the People Power Party. The survey also highlighted public perceptions of other politicians, with Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon ranking highly in favorability despite Han's inexperience in politics – a trait he shares with President Yoon.


With its dramatic and complex developments, South Korea's political scene mirrors the captivating yet often poignant narratives found in K-dramas, presenting a challenging and evolving story for its citizens.

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