Yoon must go back to basics

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Yoon must go back to basics

Seo Seung-wook
The author is the head of the political news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Son, so you’ve got a plan after all!” Ki-taek, played by actor Song Kang-ho, said in the movie “Parasite.” As President Yoon Suk-yeol struggles with falling approval ratings, that line came to mind.

As soon as he started his political career, Yoon promised to shut down the office of senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. During a media interview last July, Yoon said, “The biggest problem is that the Blue House has an ability to conduct investigations and inspections.”

He also said the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs is a post intended to reduce the distance between the president and the people and listen to public sentiment, but the role was too focused on investigations and information gathering.

Yoon vowed that he would not have senior presidential secretaries if he became president, but he could not live up to the promise. And yet, he kept the promise to shut down the office of the senior presidential secretary. I want to believe it was his declaration that he will not use the secretary to influence the prosecution or abuse power.

But what really happened to his government after the change? After the post of the senior presidential secretary was scrapped, the Justice Ministry became a superpower. Former prosecutors were appointed to key posts in the presidential office to handle vetting and appointment processes, and the justice ministry is now in charge of vetting the nominees to top government posts.

The justice minister reshuffled the prosecution even before the prosecutor general was appointed. This powerful man, who acts as the senior secretary for civil affairs, justice minister and prosecutor general, is Han Dong-hoon, the closest associate of the president. Yoon reportedly calls him, “our Dong-hoon.”

After Justice Minister Han faced criticism for making appointments in the prosecution without any consultation with a prosecutor general since the post remained vacant, Yoon said, “The minister must have done a great job.”

According to key members of the administration, Yoon made an early decision to name Han as justice minister. Many, therefore, suspect that Yoon’s decision to scrap the post of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs was backed by the plan to name Han as justice minister. While the presidential office will no longer conduct investigations and collect information, Yoon’s alter ego will head the justice ministry to oversee investigations and government appointments.

The controversy surrounding the Ministry of the Interior and Safety is generating similar concerns. Rumors spread that Yoon won’t name politicians as justice and interior ministers. Yoon aides said that naming politicians close to the president will hinder the fairness in investigations and elections.

Although that justification seems all right, Yoon named his close associate who went to the same high school and university as the interior minister.

A larger controversy was generated after Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min announced a plan to create a new police bureau to strengthen its oversight over the police. The Yoon administration said the move was intended to stop the wrongful practice that the presidential secretary for public safety bypasses the Interior and Safety Ministry to directly handle the police. But when the ministry is controlled by Yoon’s close ally, it is a completely different story.

Yoon’s wife Kim Keon-hee is also marred in controversy. After various suspicions were raised about her career, she held a press conference last December. “I always feel uneasy that I would stain the people’s hope for my husband,” Kim said during the press conference. “I sometimes exaggerated my career to look good. As I look back, I feel extremely embarrassed. Everything is my mistake and my fault. I sincerely apologize for this.

“During the remaining campaign period, I will have a quiet time of repentance. Even if my husband is elected president, I will only stick to the role as a wife.”

Yoon and his aides agreed with her position by saying that she would offer quiet support to the president. But this is far different from Kim’s widely active current behavior. Some observers said she made an ambiguous remark — “I will only stick to the role as a wife” — to lay some groundworks for her activities. They suspect that Kim and Yoon already had such a plan when she held the press conference.

Yoon was elected president at an extraordinary time through an extraordinary process. He was elected president due to the fierce public reaction to a lack of fairness and distorted norms during the five years of Moon Jae-in’s presidency.

Plots, tricks, excuses, unreasonable appointments and sneakily allowing Kim’s public activities do not go with President Yoon’s promises of fairness and common sense. He must remember why the people elected him president despite enormous concerns that he might create a republic of prosecutors. Yoon must go back to his initial determinations. Only then will his plummeting approval rating rebound.
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