Town hall or one-man show?

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Town hall or one-man show?

 President Moon Jae-in plans to have a televised town hall-style talk with the people on Nov. 21. What could be his last public debate before he steps out of office in May will be held for 100 minutes with 300 citizens. But since he has been avoiding a press conference, the public talk could turn out to be a one-man show.

In his inauguration speech on May 10, 2017, Moon promised to hold press briefings on key issues. Over the last four years and half, however, he has had only about 10 press conferences. Although the Blue House claims them to be unscripted, the president avoided speaking directly on controversial issues.

The TV show ahead of the Mar. 9 presidential election also could be controversial. The Blue House restricted the theme to the government’s Covid-19 quarantine measures and the economy. Given Moon’s self-congratulatory stance on the pandemic response, the event could mostly be spent to celebrate the achievements. During his National Assembly address last month, Moon claimed Korea’s quarantine policy has become an “international standard” even as people’s lives and self-employed businesses have been challenged by the government’s rigorous — and lengthy — social distancing rules. If Moon spends most of the time highlighting positive sides without answering what the public wishes to know, the TV show could be challenged for violating presidential neutrality and accused of interfering in the election next year.

Two years ago on Nov. 19, 2019, Moon held two-hour dialogue with the people. Many watched it in anticipation of sharp questions and clear answers from the president. But questions simply bypassed key issues and the president’s answers just stayed ceremonious. The meeting was criticized for staging dialogue with the people only to promote the government with casual talk and comments in support of the government.

We welcome President Moon talking with the people at any time. But if the upcoming event resembles his talk with the people two years ago, it will be a waste of time. If the president intends to be frank in his final period in office, he must allow questions about his policy failures as seen in the housing and urea crises and the scandal with Daejang-dong development possibly involving the presidential candidate of the ruling party. He must answer questions with sincerity. If that cannot be arranged, Moon must change the format of the meeting to an unscripted press conference.
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