Drumbeat for Han Dong-hoon to lead PPP grows
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon is considered a leading candidate to head the People Power Party (PPP), despite his claim that he’s dedicated to his current job.
On Monday, PPP floor leader Joo Ho-young said during a visit to Daegu that party members are “concerned” that there are no chairman candidates who can lead the conservative party to victory in the general elections in 2024.
Joo’s remarks led to speculation in the party that he was referring to Han, a former prosecutor known to be close to President Yoon Suk-yeol.
He said party members are “not satisfied” with the current selection and that the next PPP chair needs to be someone who can help the party win in especially in Seoul and other metropolitan areas; someone who can appeal to the MZ generation in their 20s and 30s; and someone who can easily pass the nomination process.
Many members of the PPP say there is a need for a fresh face to become chair of the party.
Some high-profile PPP members vying for the chairmanship include PPP Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon, Yoon Sang-hyun and Cho Kyoung-tae, as well as Yoo Seong-min, a former presidential hopeful.
Since September, the PPP has been led by interim chief Chung Jin-suk, another close ally of President Yoon. Chung became head of a PPP emergency steering committee after the ouster of former party chairman Lee Jun-seok.
Lee was the youngest-ever chief of a major political party at the age of 36 when elected at a PPP party convention in June 2021.
In July, a PPP ethics committee suspended Lee’s party membership for six months over sexual bribery allegations. The next month, the PPP launched a new emergency leadership effectively ousting him as party chief.
Han, known for leading high-profile cases as a prosecutor, often with Yoon, has the president’s trust and has also been very vocal in speaking up against the Democratic Party (DP). At 49, he is the youngest person in Yoon’s Cabinet.
Echoing Joo’s remarks, interim chief Chung told the Hankook Ilbo on Wednesday that a new party leader “should be a person who can lead the general elections in the metropolitan area, and even better sympathize with the MZ generation.”
He added the new PPP chairman needs to be a “new figure” so “isn’t it natural for Minister Han to come to mind?”
Joo had dinner with Yoon twice in the past two weeks, once at the presidential residence on Nov. 25 with PPP leaders, and another private dinner on Nov. 30.
But not all members of the party are keen on Han.
On Wednesday, a group of PPP members considered to be pro-Yoon launched a group called People’s Solidarity ahead of the party convention to elect its new leader next March.
Some 70 out of 115 lawmakers of the PPP attended, including Reps. Kweon Seong-dong, Chang Je-won, Kim Gi-hyeon and Ahn Cheol-soo. The group, which describes itself as a “study group,” seems to predominantly meant to come up with alternatives to Han.
Kweon, another close ally of Yoon who is expected to run in the upcoming convention, told reporters after the meeting Wednesday, “Minister Han will make his own judgment.”
Han has brushed off speculation he may be vying for the party chairmanship and told reporters Wednesday he is focused on carrying out his role as justice minister.
“Nobody has spoken to me about that,” Han told reporters on the rumors that he is seen as a potential PPP chairman candidate. “I have said clearly and firmly say that I will do my best in the role of minister because there are many important things to do.”
A presidential official also said Wednesday that President Yoon reportedly expressed “frustration” at a recent meeting with presidential staff over the speculation about Han becoming party chief.
According to a Gallup Korea released on Dec. 2 poll, 10 percent of respondents picked Han when asked their favorite political leader across party lines, tying with established PPP politicians such as Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo.
They trailed behind DP Chairman Lee Jae-myung, who received 23 percent of votes.
The poll was conducted on 1,000 people nationwide from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.
Han is currently an independent. If he were to run in a PPP convention expected for next March, he would need to have been a member of the PPP for at least three months.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]