Yoon Suk-yeol brings humility back from vacation
President Yoon Suk-yeol came back from vacation vowing to listen to the public as polls show his approval ratings stuck below 30 percent.
Yoon took questions from reporters for the first time in nearly two weeks as he arrived for work Monday at the presidential office and was asked how he felt.
“During my vacation, I reaffirmed my belief that my duty is ultimately to the people — to carefully examine their will and to uphold it while sticking to my original intentions,” Yoon said in response.
Yoon said he took the time to reflect on events that happened from his presidential campaign, to the transition period and through his inauguration and expressed a renewed sense of gratitude to the public for both their criticism and encouragement.
While on vacation, Yoon was widely criticized for failing to meet U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visited Seoul, which came after a closely-watched trip to Taiwan.
Although Pelosi was welcomed on all stops of an Asian tour by presidents or prime ministers — in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan — Seoul’s presidential office decided not to schedule a meeting while Pelosi was in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday, saying Yoon was on holiday.
Concerns over blowback to his administration’s policies and performance appear to weigh on the president, who cancelled plans to leave Seoul during his vacation due to low approval ratings.
Negative public opinion also appeared to be on his mind during a meeting with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo later on Monday, to whom he said there should be “no policies that go counter to the will of the people,” according to presidential spokesperson Kang In-sun.
When asked by reporters on Monday if he plans to carry out a government reshuffle, including the possible replacement of Education Minister Park Soon-ae, Yoon said he will “look at everything from the people's point of view.”
Under Park, the Education Ministry recently proposed a widely unpopular plan to lower the elementary school starting age by one year to five, which was met with protests from parents and teachers’ associations.
Critics of the plan say an earlier starting age could add to education-related stress for Korean children.
During his meeting with the press, the president asked the media for more forgiving coverage of his administration, which is now entering its fourth month.
“Democratic politics and the running of state affairs can’t be done unless the press cooperates with us,” he told reporters, "so as I’m seeing you all for the first time in a while, I ask you all to help me a lot."
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]