Peas-in-the-pod presidents

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Peas-in-the-pod presidents

Seo Seung-wook

The author is the head of the political news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In a recent Gallup Korea poll, 42 percent of respondents approved of Yoon Suk-yeol’s performance as president-elect, while 45 percent disapproved. President Moon Jae-in, who now has 11 days left in his term, received the mysterious approval rating of 45 percent in the survey conducted on April 22. Given the difference in their status, a horizontal comparison might be difficult. But clearly, such a pitiful approval rating for the president-elect sounds alarms over the future of his administration.

A sense of crisis has started permeating the opposition People Power Party (PPP) — which will control the executive power on May 10 — ahead of the June 1 local elections. Normally, a party can depend on a sweeping victory in elections held shortly after the launch of a new administration. But such a poor approval rating for the president-elect provokes concerns about defeats in the local elections.

In the Gallup Korea survey, people based their negative evaluation of Yoon on his cabinet appointments based on personal connections (26 percent), his relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan (21 percent), self-centered unilateralism (9 percent), lack of communication with others (7 percent), dearth of qualifications as president (3 percent) and impatience (3 percent).

The public showed a sensitive reaction to his appointments, in particular. Despite his prioritization of competency in appointing senior government officials, Yoon — a former prosecutor general — has been criticized for his lack of political considerations, excessive favoritism towards his aides, poor scrutinizing of nominees for top government posts, and a tendency to blame others for picking unqualified people.

In fact, it was the PPP that loved attacking Moon for his appointments, which remind us of Yoon’s. A case in point is Yoon’s reaction to criticism of his nomination of Prof. Chung Ho-young, a former head of a national university hospital, as health and welfare minister. Yoon demanded a “clear presentation of facts” to prove his ineligibility as the minister. That reminds us of Moon’s reaction to the PPP’s vehement opposition to his appointments. After the PPP attacked him for “failures in screening candidates,” he tersely said, “I don’t think so.”

Another issue is the president-elect’s preferential treatment of his former aides in the prosecution. General staffers in the top law enforcement agency are rumored to be moving to the presidential office as personnel affairs manager or general affairs manager. For instance, Bok Doo-kyu, a former director of general affairs in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, will likely be appointed personnel affairs manager. Even PPP members find fault with Yoon’s biased recruitment style. But his transition committee refuted the criticism, saying, “Bok is most suitable for the job as he has no conflict of interest with political circles, not to mention his expertise in personnel affairs.”

The committee’s rebuttal may be reasonable. But it still sounds contradictory when we consider the PPP’s opposition to Moon’s nomination of Kim Oe-sook, a longtime ally of the president, as his senior secretary for personnel affairs. Kim had been working as a lawyer at a law firm Moon set up in Busan in 1992. The PPP denounced Moon for picking people solely based on his connections.

Yoon’s nominations of his former aides and friends while championing the principle of excluding politicians from government posts also provoked an avalanche of criticism from the Democratic Party (DP). The DP cynically compared Yoon to a “brother who assigns decent positions to his friends in a town after he made a success.”

Moon has been attacked for only caring about his allies over the past five years. As to his exceptionally high approval rating, pundits sarcastically said he only “took care of his allies with the goal of scoring 50 points from the start while other presidents sought 100 points across the board.”

As a journalist, I was utterly disappointed by the Moon administration’s notorious double standards — generous to its friends and rude to foes. So I look forward to seeing a new government. Yoon must not follow in the footsteps of Moon if he wants a successful presidency.
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