Say farewell to your close aides, Mr. President

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Say farewell to your close aides, Mr. President

Kim Dong-ho

The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The first Chuseok holiday has arrived under Yoon Suk-yeol’s presidency. The never-ending political soap drama will nevertheless go uninterrupted on the internet and TV during the four-day holiday break. We are stuck with vulgar political reality shows, whether we like them or not. As the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee said 27 years ago, Korean politics is fourth rate. Sadly, it has never gotten any better.

In fact, it has gotten worse. The public disgust with politics is reflected in approval ratings of the sitting power hovering in the 20 to 30 percent range. The problem is the apparent decline of our national competitiveness. With low approval rating, a president challenging pension, labor and education reforms cannot pick up. The political landscape surrounding Yoon does not help the president due to the never-ending inner feud at the ruling party.

But government resources must not be wasted by party disorder. If things do not change after Chuseok, the president’s first year in office will end without setting any ground for a policy push in a single five-year presidency. That will be a misfortune for the nation and the conservative party. The liberal government under President Moon Jae-in lost governing power in five years. The suicidal surrender of nuclear reactors and reckless hikes in the minimum wage under the incomprehensible income-led growth policy based on ideology ruined 7 million self-employed businesses and led to an election defeat.

Yoon has restored the nuclear reactor industry and set economic policy in the right direction toward an economy led by the private sector. The first budget under his presidency cut all possible unnecessary expenditures while raising welfare spending to the upwards of 100 trillion won ($72.3 billion) to enhance social security. The conservative government stayed true to the balanced philosophy of respecting the market and caring for the socially weak.
President Yoon Suk-yeol checks local government preparedness for super Typhoon Hinnamnor at his presidential office in Yongsan on the afternoon of September 5. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE]

But the government must do more. It must fend off a looming crisis and sustain the economy running above potential growth rate of 2 percent. It must remove internal risks to concentrate on state affairs. The biggest risks are his three aides in the People Power Party (PPP), suspended party head Lee Jun-seok and first lady Kim Keon-hee. They have been dominating political news from the ruling front.

None can be easy. But he can do something about all the controversies surrounding his wife. He must explain what needs to be explained, and restrain behavior that has discomforted society. The conflict with Lee, the suspended PPP chairman, may not be resolved easily. Since Lee has been regarded as “someone who fires at his own people,” trust may not be restored. Since Lee is no longer the head of the party, the relationship won’t likely worsen if Yoon keeps his distance.

Yoon’s aides pose the biggest headache. The PPP has been keeping up one fight after another over the past four months in power. The trio from Yoon’s presidential camp — all incumbent PPP lawmakers — clashed with Lee from the beginning followed by yet another internal battle between members of the presidential office and Yoon’s former colleagues from the prosecution. Internal strife always triggered national division under the past governments. Park Geun-hye’s presidency came to a stop before her term ended after a power struggle between a faction loyal to her and a faction less close to her erupted.

Political apathy is brimming. The PPP suddenly formed an emergency leadership and is now waiting for a court judgment on the legitimacy of the interim committee. The party must first ruminate on the meaning of governing. Governance is a power given for five years through election. If the party is immersed in self-interest, it will certainly lose public support in the next vote.

The governing front must change after Chuseok. If President Yoon really wants to take command, he must solve the three risks above all. Divorcing from his former camp aides can be the first step.
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