Moon’s sad retreat
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Moon Jae-in’s approval rating was 45 percent according to last week’s Gallup Korea poll. It is an unprecedentedly high number for an outgoing president — even higher than the rating of the president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol who will be inaugurated on May 10. While the Democratic Party (DP) has failed to extend the administration, President Moon has maintained a solid approval rating right up until the last moment, and it is truly extraordinary. Despite the high rating and support, he may not have shaken off some fundamental concerns. In the last few days, Moon exaggerated non-existent accomplishments and reversed facts with unreasonable arguments in his last interview with the press (JTBC) and at an event answering people’s comments on the Blue House website. The outgoing president denounced his successor with harsh criticism.
Regarding the relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan, Moon said, “It is not very fitting.” He added, “Is it necessary to spend a lot of money and move the presidential office to a place other than Gwanghwamun Square? It feels very contradictory to say that it is for communication while such an important plan is being pushed without proper discussion.” Moon also described the relocation plan as “dangerous.” It is true that the relocation is has been somewhat controversial. But since the budget for the relocation was approved at a Cabinet meeting, it’s not something the outgoing president should oppose openly.
On President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, the outgoing president advised him to “return to the presidential mode.” Moon blamed Yoon for making hawkish remarks about North Korea during the campaign as “he has never dealt with North Korea.” On the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, Moon said, “One should not do it without fully understanding intricacies of the issue.” The comment crosses the red line of common sense and certain taboos. If he respects Yoon’s presidency after his, he should have refrained from speaking such unfiltered words casually.
The United States, the country that invented the presidential system, has a tradition of the outgoing president leaving a handwritten letter to the successor. Former President Barack Obama said he was deeply moved when he received a letter from his predecessor George W. Bush, who wrote, “There will be trying moments. The critics will rage … But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me.” Even former President Donald Trump — who instigated the public to believe his votes had been stolen — followed the tradition and left a handwritten letter to incoming President Joe Biden. Well-wishing remarks serve as a barometer of the character of a person who gives them rather than a person who receives them. Can politicians be any different? I am very curious. Is Moon really reluctant to give a blessing to the success of his successor because he is narrow-minded or is there some other reasons?
My doubts continue. Transferring his responsibility to the next administration and exaggerating his achievements mostly took place shortly before the start on Tuesday of the new administration. A few days after the new administration announced it will fully open the Blue House, the North Korean commando Kim Shin-jo’s infiltration route on Mount Bukak behind the Blue House was opened to the public. His administration’s decision to lift the outdoor mask mandate on May 2 was announced immediately after Yoon’s transition committee announced it would lift the mask mandate at the end of May. It may be coincidental, but I cannot help feeling that the outgoing president could be somewhat small-minded.
On April 15, with less than a month left in office, the Moon administration made a major decision to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Cptpp). The outgoing administration takes credit for taking the initiative while the incoming administration is responsible for the hard work of negotiation and ratification. Even with a supermajority of 171 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, the DP and the president have been dragging their feet in signing the deal only to please farmers and fishermen, but they showed extraordinary skills in passing the two controversial revisions aimed at stripping the prosecution of its investigative authority entirely. It took only 45 days for all the surreal drama to be concluded. Why is the Blue House clock turning faster than ever?
The promise to be a “president for all people” and make “a worthy country” has been in vain. The evidence is the 0.72 percent defeat of the DP in the March 9 presidential election. But the outgoing president said, “I have never stepped into the ring and I didn’t even open my mouth. So, if you say we lost the election because of me, that’s not right.” It is sophistry I probably cannot understand until the end. People feel disturbed to watch the self-proclaimed “candlelight president” disappear from the stage with an entrenched narrow-mindedness to the last minute.