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South Korean opposition leader apologizes for corruption of ex-presidents

People Power Party interim leader Kim Chong-in issued a formal apology on Tuesday for the corruption of two ex-presidents, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, both of whom are serving prison sentences. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
People Power Party interim leader Kim Chong-in issued a formal apology on Tuesday for the corruption of two ex-presidents, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, both of whom are serving prison sentences. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The interim leader of South Korea's opposition People Power Party issued a formal apology on Tuesday for the corruption convictions of a pair of ex-presidents connected to the conservative party, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak.

"Two former presidents are incarcerated at the same time," Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the PPP, said at a news conference at the National Assembly. "I stand here today to offer an earnest apology to the citizens."

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Park was impeached in December 2016 on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from businesses and abusing her powers in a scheme with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil. She is serving a 20-year prison term.

Lee, Park's predecessor who served as president from 2008 to 2013, is also in prison on a 17-year sentence for various corruption charges.

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"The president's political party has the responsibility and duty of joint management to lead the country well," Kim said Tuesday. "Our party was the ruling party at the time and we failed to fulfill that duty. The fault of the president is also the fault of the ruling party."

President Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party swept into power in elections held in May 2017 as a response to the impeachment of Park and the taint of corruption around the conservative party.

His Democratic Party also coasted to a landslide victory in parliamentary elections held in April, winning 180 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly alongside a minor affiliated party.

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Kim said his People Power Party must escape from the "dark shadow" of the cozy relationship between big business and politics that the two ex-presidents represent.

"We must make sure these past mistakes don't happen again," Kim said. "With a scathing self-reflection, we will rebuild the party from its roots, and through renovation and renewal we'll be born again."

The next opportunity at the ballot box for the PPP will be in March 2022, when Moon's single term comes to an end and major local races for the Seoul and Busan mayorships will be up for grabs.

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Kim's apology comes at a time when the ruling party is at its most vulnerable in months.

Moon, whose approval rating climbed to 71% in May over his administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen his popularity plummet to a record low this week amid soaring real estate prices and a resurgent third wave of the virus.

A survey by pollster Realmeter released Monday found Moon's approval rating at 36.7%, with 58.2% of respondents giving him negative marks. He has also been dogged by his administration's infighting with the country's top prosecutor, who was investigating abuse of power allegations against top aides and high-level officials before being suspended last week.

In the same Realmeter poll, the PPP scored a 31.6% approval rating, topping the Democratic Party's 30.8%.

However, South Korean conservatives have been divided over the apology since the PPP's Kim publicly announced the plan earlier this month, fearing that it will alienate the party's base.

On Tuesday, conservative Rep. Park Dae-chul said the apology "would have been better left unsaid," news agency Yonhap reported.

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