Always picking sides
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
As I trace the cause of the crises of the Moon Jae-in administration, I arrive at “dividing sides” without exception. The controversies over Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and the lethargy of the Covid-19 response all originate there.
As even President Moon has joined the battle to bring down Yoon, a former prosecutor said it all began from Moon’s decision to appoint him as prosecutor general. After Yoon devastated powerful figures and high-level judges in the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, a former head of a district prosecutors’ office said that the tragedy began with Moon mistaking Yoon for one of his allies. The lawyer said, “When Yoon’s appointment was announced, many prosecutors thought he would investigate the administration someday. That time came early with the appointment of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.”
The course of Moon promoting Yoon was surprising. Shortly after his inauguration, the president promoted Yoon to head the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, which had traditionally been held by the heads of the High Prosecutors’ Office. In July, Yoon skipped the High Prosecutors’ Office head position and became the prosecutor general. Key positions at the top law enforcement agency were filled by prosecutors dealing with special investigations into senior government officials. Those prosecutors were considered allies of Yoon.
After the Cho Kuk scandal, the current administration realized that it made a mistake. Prosecutors were aiming their swords at the government even after they were demoted. As a result, the government rushed to draw up a reform plan to gobble up the prosecution’s power and railroaded a revision to the act related to the establishment of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). In the process of using sly tactics to disarm Yoon, an upright prosecutor, more prosecutors turned their back on the government.
Dividing sides also led to confusion in the government’s Covid-19 control. Faced with an unprecedented disaster, ruling and opposition parties attacked one another. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Nak-yon recently said that the opposition People Power Party’s (PPP) attacks on the government over Covid-19 crossed a line. DP floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon commented that the PPP was using the issue of vaccines politically, and its senior member Kim Jong-min said that the opposition was overly attacking the government’s disease control measures.
At the beginning of the crisis, there was a mood for collaboration. Minor opposition People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo took out his surgical gown and ran to Daegu. What put a cold blanket to the flow was the government’s dividing sides. It provoked doctors with the idea of setting up a public medical school. After staging protests against the move, medical students across the country were deprived of their opportunity to take a national exam.
A wall was also built intentionally between doctors and nurses when President Moon praised nurses for their devotion to battling Covid-19 while criticizing medical interns and doctors for joining a strike led by the Korea Medical Association to protest the establishment of the public medical school to meet the demand for medical service in rural areas.
I doubted my ears when Moon’s Chief of Staff Noh Young-min openly attacked the participants of the Gwanghwamun rally in Seoul. No one does not fear Covid-19. A pandemic is scary, but they participated in the rally because they have a desperate claim. Noh denounced the conservative protestors as “murderers” as they were not on his side.
The government urgently deployed Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu to oust the top prosecutor. It was revealed that he was drunk and assaulted a taxi driver, but the case was quietly settled without any legal action. DP lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang had a party on her birthday amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha’s husband went abroad to buy a yacht. Those on “our side” just do as they wish. The last parliamentary elections on April 15 must have given the administration the feeling that they can win elections by dividing people into friends and foes.
Moon emphasized unity during the election campaign. Many supported him for that. In the inauguration speech, he said that his head was full of blueprints to open a new world of unity and co-existence. Where have the blueprints gone? I haven’t seen one in three and a half years. In a recent media interview, Hong Se-hwa, an iconic liberal figure in Korea, said that the inauguration speech contained many good contents, but he didn’t think the president wrote it personally.
The wisdom to get through a series of unprecedented crises can be found in Moon’s inauguration speech. He said he would serve each and every citizen, even those who did not support him. He should keep that promise.
The soon-to-be-established CIO will just be the beginning. This time, a head for all people should be chosen. It will be the beginning to bringing back those who once voted for him.