Yoon’s strong start
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
So far, President Yoon Suk-yeol is living up to his word. After a journalist from the Washington Post pointed out that his cabinet is filled with mostly men, he named four female ministers and vice ministers. After National Assembly Deputy Speaker Kim Sung-hee talked about gender disputes, Yoon said, “As I started politics just a while ago, I apparently had a narrow perspective. I will expand it.” He then kept his promise. Former National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won, a political veteran, was astonished at Yoon’s “spontaneous responses.”
President Yoon wore a sky blue color tie, close to the symbolic color of the Democratic Party, when he gave a budget speech at the National Assembly. He shook the hands of all lawmakers and exchanged greetings. It was a dramatic and emotional six minutes. “There will be consultations with the National Assembly leaders in advance when the government has a new policy to push forward,” Yoon promised. It was a strong signal of bipartisan cooperation.
Yoon hosted an unprecedented event by inviting business leaders from small and medium companies along with heads of the top five chaebol to a garden in front of the presidential office in Yongsan. Although it was raining, he made visits to all 60 tables and told the guests to visit him whenever they have a hard time. The event’s guests said the president was a humble man, just like a neighbor. The top 10 companies promised to invest more than 1,000 trillion won ($804.4 billion) over the next five years to create 380,000 jobs in tandem with his conviction that the private sector will lead the growth.
Yoon also attended the democratization movement commemoration ceremony in Gwangju on May 18 along with his cabinet members and party lawmakers, met with the victims’ families and sang the anthem. It was a moment the new president’s genuine intention was revealed.
In Aesop’s Fables, a boastful athlete brags that he once jumped higher than an Olympic athlete on the Island of Rhodes. His neighbors challenged him to restage the jump on the spot by saying “Hic Rhodus, hic saltus! [Here is Rhodes, jump here!]” The phrase was quoted by Hegel and Karl Marx to stress the importance of concrete action in real life, not empty words.
Yoon, a political rookie no one has expected, is making his best efforts each day. He is finally ending the era in which a head of state puts all efforts for the delusive income-led growth and nuclear phase-out policies after denying reality and being enslaved to old ideology.
The new president is resolute and determined to bid farewell to the old era. But the legislature is still controlled by a party with a dramatically different perspective. They failed to win the March 9 presidential election due to their hypocritical behavior, and they lost public support by abusing the majority to completely take away investigative powers from the prosecution. And yet, they were the fighters who sacrificed themselves to achieve democratization against the authoritarian regime. As they are fiercer than most of the new administration who are still insensitive to the change of time, Yoon can only get their cooperation when he shows he has fundamentally changed.
The first test of Yoon’s willingness for cooperative politics will be the conflict surrounding Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon’s excessive power. Yoon has decided to create a new human resources information management team under the Justice Ministry to vet candidates for public office. “The presidential secretariat must focus on policies. It is wrong for the office to dig dirt on others. That is why I shut down the office of the senior secretary for civil affairs,” said Yoon. He will let the secretariat nominate candidates, while the ministry will verify them for checks and balances. Yoon volunteered to scale back the president’s massive powers. There is no reason to question his true intention even before the new appointment system is implemented.
The Democratic Party thinks differently. It complains that information about candidates for high-ranking posts will be directly reported to Justice Minister Han. They claim that Yoon is replacing the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs with the Justice Ministry. They said it goes against the Constitution and other laws if the prime minister and the Ministry of Personnel Management are ruled out from the appointment process and incumbent prosecutors are vetting the candidates. Critics also said the data can be abused by the prosecution for investigations.
In a democracy, it is natural that different opinions are presented. That is why a process is necessary. It is inappropriate for Yoon to just change the executive decree to bypass the National Assembly. He must listen carefully to the concerns that the vetting process will be handed over to the Justice Ministry, while the prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Personnel Management are ruled out.
If Yoon is persuaded by the Democratic Party, he must change his argument boldly. That is democracy. That is the politics of Yoon, who promised to innovate himself. And that is the start of true cooperative politics. You cannot ignore the opinions of the opposition when you want to bolster the economy and national security while trying to reform pension system, labor and education.