Next steps for Yoon and the PPP

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Next steps for Yoon and the PPP

Han Kyung-hwan
The author is a senior editor at JoongAng Sunday.
The moment finally came. Lee Jun-seok, the thirty-something chairman of the People Power Party (PPP), has been removed from his post despite his partial contribution to the victory of the conservative party in the March 9 presidential election. (Some pundits attribute the razor-thin triumph of the PPP to Lee’s supporters in their 20s and 30s.) On Friday, the Ethics Committee of the PPP — led by Lee Yang-hee, a professor at SungKyunKwan University — suspended Lee for six months over a sex scandal and an attempt to destroy the evidence.
I am not defending Lee. But anyone can see that the decision to remove him from office — albeit temporarily — is not just related to his integrity. The Ethics Committee chairwoman denied the possibility of the ouster being orchestrated by PPP lawmakers close to President Yoon Suk-yeol. How many will believe her? The eviction of Lee — a bold and ambitious leader with no experience as a lawmaker — apparently represents a heated power struggle in the PPP.
Only two months after taking power, the conservative party has invited a crisis way beyond the level of internal schisms. It is utterly questionable if the PPP can draw support from young voters in the next election after Lee’s expulsion. The division and conflict in the PPP will end up burdening the government and people instead of helping Yoon in office.
The honeymoon period was a luxury for Yoon, as suggested by his plunging approval ratings. A Gallup Korea poll released on Friday showed that only 37 percent of respondents approved of Yoon’s performance as president, down 7 percent from a week earlier. Meanwhile, 49 percent disapproved of his presidential performance, up seven percent. The survey firm attributed the alarming development to the drop of his approval ratings and ascension of disapproval ratings by most voters, including the elderly and conservatives, the power base for the president.
The Yoon administration largely earned the dismal results. The president pushed through his appointment of prosecutors as top government ministers despite concerns about a “republic of prosecutors,” and could not aptly respond to economic hardships such as steep inflation and supply shortages. In the face of the looming fear of a recession, the Yoon administration does not seem to have a sense of crisis.
In the meantime, first lady Kim Keon-hee’s suspicious behavior helped eclipse her husband’s approval rating. The daily doorstep interview the new president started to have with reporters was first accepted as quite refreshing, but Yoon’s unrefined words, coupled with many slips of the tongue, are starting to hurt him.
But the president does not care. “It is just meaningless,” he said. “What matters is I am doing my utmost for the people as head of state. 
Of course, Yoon’s uninterrupted approach could work miracles though it may look highhanded and dogmatic to outsiders. He is free to choose, but is not free from responsibility. Could his administration and the PPP see a dramatic rebound in approval ratings ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2024? Or will they face a perennial lame duck phenomenon?
Now, criticisms are coming from PPP insiders. Park Young-jin, a spokesperson close to the evicted chairman, said, “It is deplorable that both parties are attacking one another for applying the same double standards on their own wrongdoing. The voters did not elect Yoon as president just to see that happen.”
And yet, it’s too early to give up on the Yoon administration. Many people say the past two months feel like two years. The public will soon see how long an administration dismissive of public opinion can last. The government must change. It is time for the conservative administration to do some deep soul-searching, before it’s too late.
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