(Bloomberg) -- South Korean lawmakers approved a motion to authorize an arrest warrant for the leader of the main opposition party on graft charges, a move that could shake up the group ahead of a national election in April.
Members of the National Assembly approved the measure to authorize the arrest warrant of Democratic Party Leader Lee Jae-myung. Of the 295 votes cast, 149 approved the measure, meaning members of his progressive bloc who hold a large majority in parliament crossed party lines. The next step is for a court to hold a hearing on the warrant, which could lead to a decision on whether he is formally detained.
Lee was the party’s nominee for the presidential election in 2022 and prosecutors are seeking to arrest him on graft charges. Some Democratic Party members are concerned Lee has become a liability and may not be able to focus his attention on the April election where his group is facing a charge from President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative party, which is battling to regain a majority in parliament.
Lee was first indicted in March on charges including breach of duty and bribery. In August, prosecutors charged Lee with third-party bribery in connection with a company that allegedly transferred about $3 million illegally to North Korea to facilitate Lee’s visit to Pyongyang, Yonhap News Agency and other media reported.
Lee denied the charges, saying his opponents are using this as political leverage. He has been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks to protest government policies and is currently in a hospital.
“It seems to me that the intention is to try to defuse or mitigate the incompetence and the failures of this administration and its violations of the people through these judicial attacks,” Lee said in an interview with Bloomberg News in August just before he went on the hunger strike.
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In February, Lee’s progressive bloc used its majority in parliament to vote down a similar measure seeking consent to authorize an arrest warrant for its leader on separate graft charges.
If Yoon’s People Power Party takes control of parliament, the conservative group is likely to push through economic policies that include taking on powerful labor unions, reducing regulations on businesses as well as tax cuts for companies and on real estate transactions.
Lee’s party has 168 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, while Yoon’s party holds 111.
Political wrangling has erupted after Yoon stood by Japan’s decision to discharge over a million tons of treated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. While the plan has been ruled to be in line with global safety standards, it hasn’t assuaged the concerns of China and South Korea.
Separately, the opposition party approved a motion calling for the dismissal of Prime Minister Han Duk-soo over policies such as the Fukushima water discharge. The move is largely symbolic because Yoon is expected to reject the measure and allow Han to stay in office.
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