The Korea Herald


Disgraced ex-minister rises as major threat to ruling party

Ruling party Interim Chair Han Dong-hoon says Cho Kuk, main opposition leader are ‘forces that need to be stopped’

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : March 17, 2024 - 15:00

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Rebuilding Korea Party Chair and ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk (Yonhap) Rebuilding Korea Party Chair and ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk (Yonhap)

The political party recently launched by a disgraced ex-minister has become a major threat to the ruling party ahead of the April 10 legislative election, and a force that “needs to be stopped” alongside the main opposition, according to People Power Party Chair Han Dong-hoon on Sunday.

“The main opposition party has become more toxic ... due to the current Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung and the forces of (ex-Justice Minister) Cho Kuk, which works as a shield for Lee, alongside the successors of the Unified Progressive Party,” Han said during the first meeting of the ruling party’s election campaign committee held at the National Assembly.

“We will do everything to prevent the outdated forces of the Democratic Party from (reversing Korea’s success),” he added.

Han has discussed Cho repeatedly over the past week, apparently alarmed by the fast-growing popularity of the Rebuilding Korea Party launched early this month by the ex-justice minister.

The latest poll released by Gallup Korea on Friday showed that the support for the Rebuilding Korea Party came to 7 percent, gaining 1 percent on-week since the party was first included in the survey.

The support for the Rebuilding Korea Party eclipsed other major third parties including the New Reform Party chaired by former ruling party leader Lee Jun-seok and the New Future Party chaired by ex-Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, which saw 2 percent and 1 percent support, respectively. The Green Justice Party and the Progressive Party each saw 1 percent. The poll involved 1,002 Koreans aged 18 or older and was conducted March 12-14.

Support for the People Power Party came to 37 percent, while the Democratic Party achieved 32 percent support in the same survey.

The poll follows last month’s collapse of the so-called “big tent,” a coalition of third parties including the New Future Party and the New Reform Party, which pledged to counter the two-party system here by joining forces. However, the New Future Party left merely 11 days after joining the coalition, significantly weakening its power.

Since then, Cho has launched his own party and has partnered with the main opposition party for the upcoming election. A key slogan for Cho’s party has been “bringing down the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s dictatorship run by prosecutors.”

“The (main opposition) Democratic Party of Korea alongside the Rebuilding Korea Party shares core support by voters in their 40s and 50s. One in 3 Democratic Party supporters have picked the Rebuilding Korea Party as the party of their choice in the proportional representation voting system,” Gallup Korea explained.

Echoing Gallup Korea's comments, a political expert noted that the Rebuilding Korea Party’s popularity is likely to gain further momentum by absorbing voters who feel let down either by the Democratic Party’s softer-than-expected stance towards President Yoon Suk Yeol or by Lee Jae-myung’s leadership.

“Voters who are disappointed with the Democratic Party (led by Lee Jae-myung) are becoming supporters of the Rebuilding Korea Party,” said Shin Yul, a professor of political science at Myongji University.

Shin, however, also explained that the momentum could deplete just before the election, as voters have a "tendency to lean towards the two major parties” when casting the ballot.

Last month, the Seoul High Court decided to uphold a lower court ruling to sentence Cho to two years in prison and a 6 million won ($4,518) fine on charges of forging documents to facilitate his children's school admissions.

The court said Cho showed “no signs of remorse or regret” for his actions, citing his unwillingness to admit any wrongdoing. The court chose not to imprison Cho immediately. Cho said he seeks to appeal the latest ruling.