The search for a saviorA recent survey showed Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl leading a pack of possible presidential candidates from both the ruling and opposition parties. His dramatic rise in popularity is primarily a result of a critical dearth of attractive candidates for president in the opposition People Power Party (PPP). As the poll shows, the top prosecutor received most support from the conservative party, which was unthinkable when he dug up corruption by officials in the conservative Park Geun-hye administration. But after he rolled up his sleeves to investigate corruption in the liberal Moon Jae-in administration, the conservatives — as well as swing voters — started to see the top prosecutor as a kind of savior.
Yoon’s popularity owes much to his ongoing conflict with the powers that be. It is the first time Yoon has ranked first in such polls, ahead of ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon and Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung, both recent frontrunners. Such a turnaround came after Yoon stressed in a televised parliamentary hearing that prosecution reforms begin with unbiased probes into corruption of the powers that be. The DP praised Yoon to the skies when he dug up dirt on the former conservative government, but started dragging him through the mud when he wielded his sword against its allies. Such a contradiction led to the surge in his popularity.
The double standards of the DP and government are obvious. Even the head of the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office confessed that politics held sway over the prosecution after he launched investigations into financial fraud involving the administration. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae joined in the battle by taking the prosecutor general’s right to command investigations from Yoon and exercised it on her own when Yoon embarked on investigating suspicious cases involving the administration. She even demoted the top prosecutor’s allies.
A prosecutor general’s entry into politics is not an entirely desirable thing. Yoon has never plainly said that was his future. He asked polling companies to remove his name from lists of presidential aspirants. His rising favorability under such circumstances represents an ever-deepening thirst for justice and fairness in our society.
Yoon’s rise is a strong warning to our political establishment. The Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon was similarly rooted in a public desire for something new and fresh in politics. As it turned out, his unripe bids for the presidency ended in failures. Someone else may fill his shoes. Regardless of Yoon’s decision on a bid for the presidency, our politicians, left or right, should do some deep soul-searching now.