Moon’s suspicious tripPresident Moon Jae-in headed to Kunsan, North Jeolla, just two weeks ahead of the March 9 presidential election, creating another controversy regarding presidential neutrality in the election. He attended a ceremony to reopen the Kunsan dockyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries, which had been idled for nearly five years. He was joined by the governor of North Jeolla, the Kunsan mayor, the industry minister and the employment minister as well as lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
The Blue House explained that the president made the visit as he had felt badly when the Kunsan dockyard stopped after the shuttering of a GM Korea plant in the city. But Moon’s public activities coincidentally centered around the Jeolla province — the liberal administration’s power base — since the presidential race began on Feb. 15. That raises suspicion over the president’s help to consolidate the DP’s power base. In contrast, the president had sent a video message congratulating the permanent opening of a dam on the Nakdong River in Busan on February 18. Moon’s trip to Kunsan could be found ill-timed and lacking in terms of balance.
Approval ratings for People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol have been higher than other conservative candidates in the traditional support base for the liberal party after Yoon promised to local people big projects, including a multiplex shopping mall in Gwangju City. The Blue House should have considered that Moon’s visit to Kunsan could stoke misunderstanding of a presidential boost to help the DP’s candidate Lee Jae-myung.
President Moon has been questioned for breaking presidential neutrality in elections for many times. He endorsed a universal disaster relief program shortly before the parliamentary elections on April 15, 2020 and went to a new airport site on Gadeok Island off the coast of Busan ahead of the April 7 Busan mayoral by-election last year. He has again stoked controversy for trying to meddle in the last major election before his term ends in May.
The presidential election is being held with the minister of the interior and safety and the minister of justice in charge of overseeing the election. The two ministers are members of the DP. Six out of the seven commissioners of the National Election Commission are recommended by the ruling party. If President Moon interferes this time, the defeated candidate can hardly accept the election results just like the last parliamentary election two years ago. Moon, who retains the DP membership, must refrain from making suspicious trips to regional voting bases and instead must contribute to a fair election administration. The NEC also must demand the Blue House maintain its neutrality in this election.