|Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who has been staging a hunger protest since Aug. 31, lies on the floor of his office at the National Assembly in Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps|
By Nam Hyun-woo
Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung had been continuing his hunger protest for 16 days as of Friday. Despite his declining health, however, it still seems difficult for him to find convincing causes to end the protest while appealing to the public.
The party hopes that former President Moon Jae-in will visit Lee and persuade him to stop the protest, which will be seen as a gesture of addressing the party's divide between pro-Moon and pro-Lee factions. But the chairman is insisting on continuing his strike and demanding a response from the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.
DPK chairman's chief of staff, Rep. Cheon Jun-ho, told reporters Friday that Lee's overall physical condition has severely deteriorated, noting that his blood sugar level is seriously threatening his overall health.
"He was advised to be hospitalized," Cheon said. "However, Lee is expressing a strong intention to continue his hunger strike."
Lee has been staging the sit-in protest since Aug. 31, saying, "There is no other way to stop the retrograding practices of the Yoon administration."
As the protest has continued for more than two weeks, a number of DPK lawmakers, including those who have been critical of Lee, and the party's seniors, visited to express their concerns and ask the chairman to stop the protest.
DPK floor spokesperson Rep. Lee So-young said, "DPK lawmakers expressed their commitment to containing the Yoon government's tyranny during the upcoming National Assembly session and asked the chairman to stop the protest."
Along with lawmakers, Lee Nak-yon, a former DPK chairman who locked horns with Lee during last year's presidential primary, Kwon Noh-gab, the DPK's adviser, and former President Moon also expressed concerns.
The ruling People Power Party (PPP) has also urged Lee to stop the protest, citing his health condition. PPP Chairman Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon said during a party supreme council meeting on Thursday, "With all due respect, I request the DPK Chairman to stop the protest regardless of the reasons."
Kim also said on Friday that Lee should stop his hunger protest for the sake of his health, despite refusing to visit Lee who is striking at the Assembly.
|Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea hold banners calling for Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung to stop his hunger protest at Lee's office at the National Assembly in Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps|
Lee did not specify the conditions for ending his protest, but made three demands to the administration ― a public apology from President Yoon for damaging democracy; the government's open opposition to Japan's release of wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and a sweeping renovation of the government and a Cabinet reshuffle.
On Wednesday, Yoon replaced defense, culture and gender equality ministers. Then Lee released a statement saying "the reshuffle goes against common sense, and nothing but an attempt to put up a fight against the public."
However, Yoon and his staffers are maintaining indifference to Lee's hunger protest.
"Among the presidential office, it seems that Lee's hunger protest is not a compelling matter," an official at the presidential office said. "Not sure it is a strategic silence or a complete indifference, but the issue itself seems to be out of the office's priority."
When asked about the office's view on Lee's protest, another official at the office said in a press briefing on Sept. 12 that "it seems inappropriate for the presidential office to mention about a pending political issue."
|President Yoon Suk Yeol boards the presidential helicopter on the deck of the ROKS Nojeokbong, after attending the 73rd anniversary ceremony of the Incheon Landing Operation in Incheon, Friday. Courtesy of the presidential office|
Against this backdrop, some DPK members are floating ideas that former President Moon travel to Seoul and visit Lee to ask him to stop, a gesture of unity within the DPK.
One of the possible events mentioned among DPK lawmakers is a forum to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on Sept. 19.
The event is set to take place on Yeouido and a number of senior politicians are scheduled to appear, and Moon, who is staying in South Gyeongsang Province, is expected to attend. DPK lawmakers see this as an opportunity for the former president to visit the National Assembly.
"I believe it is desirable for Moon to meet Lee in Seoul and persuade him to stop the protest," said the former Director of the National Intelligence Service and a long-time heavyweight of the DPK, during a radio interview with broadcaster MBC.