[Reporter’s notebook] Former prosecutor general’s candidacy lacks substance

Posted on : 2021-06-30 16:51 KST Modified on : 2021-06-30 16:51 KST
Yoon is currently marching under the banners of anti-politics and opposition to Moon Jae-in, but they don’t explain why Yoon deserves presidency
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl takes questions from reporters during a press conference Tuesday at the Yun Bong-gil Memorial Hall in Seoul. (National Assembly press photographers)
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl takes questions from reporters during a press conference Tuesday at the Yun Bong-gil Memorial Hall in Seoul. (National Assembly press photographers)

The main question that reporters asked former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl in his press conference Tuesday was why he ought to be South Korea’s next president. Yoon answers that he wants “to restore common sense and rebuild the rule of law.” A more thorough answer appeared in his opening remarks.

“Following my resignation from public office, Korean citizens understood why I had to step down and have shown me unceasing encouragement and support. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of that. It means that I should dedicate myself to leading a change of government so that the forces that are undermining fairness and good sense and denying freedom and the rule of law don’t hold on to power and cause people any more pain.”

In a nutshell, Yoon said that Koreans’ continuing support for him means he ought to take the lead in bringing the opposition party to power. He points to the polls for his mission, which he says is taking down the Democratic Party.

I wonder when Yoon started thinking about running for president. I don’t buy the claim that he tried to sabotage other likely candidates while serving as prosecutor general. While he was a rank-and-file prosecutor, Yoon said, “I don’t have loyalty to people” and “I have zero political instincts” — not the sort of thing a politician would say. He was a “company man” through and through, dedicated to the prosecution service.

Yoon’s prosecutorial career started to go sideways in 2019 when he initiated an over-the-top investigation of Cho Kuk, who had been nominated to be justice minister. That marked the beginning of friction with the Moon administration.

Yoon’s name began to appear in public opinion polls about potential presidential candidates in late 2019, but initially his support remained in the single digits.

It wasn’t until October 2020, following the National Assembly’s audit of the prosecution service, that Yoon began polling above 10%. That was a time when erstwhile opposition frontrunners such as Hong Joon-pyo, Ahn Cheol-soo, and Yoo Seong-min could barely move the dial.

The lack of an appealing option among opposition candidates created an opportunity for Yoon.

Yoon was made even more prominent by the disciplinary proceedings pursued against him by then Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. Yoon’s name recognition and support shot up simultaneously.

Yoon’s star turn came with his resignation in early March of this year. Yoon’s support in a presumptive presidential race shot up to 24% — putting him even with Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province and frontrunner for the ruling Democratic Party — in a Gallup Korea poll in the second week of March.

Yoon and Lee have remained neck and neck in most public opinion polls since then; Yoon has the edge in automated polls.

So what’s in store for Yoon? The polls were his calling and his inspiration to launch his presidential bid. That suggests that his future depends on the polls as well.

It’s not promising for Yoon that his standing in the polls has been slipping amid recent speculation about a document — called the “X-File” — rumored to contain allegations against him. Will his announcement of his presidential bid on Tuesday help him make up lost ground? That doesn’t look easy.

Yoon’s press conference on Tuesday was full of fearsome fulminations, such as “flinging down fairness and the rule of law and shattering the national foundation,” “frustration and rage,” “the wicked behavior committed by this administration,” “the self-aggrandizement of political power,” “fleecing the public,” “deception and false instigation” and “rampant corruption.”

No doubt that was music to the ears of Yoon’s conservative supporters, who despise the Moon administration. But that’s not going to make Yoon president.

There’s little evidence of what values, position, or policy Yoon may hold on the economy, welfare, foreign policy, and national security. He mentioned “ultra-fast information processing technology” and “the international division of labor” in the press conference, but those are just empty phrases.

Yoon’s basic message was that everything will be perfectly fine once he becomes president and kicks out all those meanies who hate fairness, common sense, freedom, and the rule of law.

Yoon is currently marching under the banners of anti-politics and opposition to Moon Jae-in.

Political mavericks have never yet won an election in South Korea. Two memorable attempts were made by Chung Ju-yung in 1992 and by Ahn Cheol-soo in 2012.

Yoon would do well to remember that Moon isn’t running for president on March 9, 2022

From this point forward, Yoon will have to compete with People Power Party lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo, People Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo, and former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min over their vision of Korea’s future.

They’re the ones who placed second, third, and fourth in the last presidential election. Yoon Seok-youl — a crusader for the prosecutors, and presidential candidate — will now be put to the test.

By Seong Han-yong, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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