With 2 months until election, how will Yoon’s “lone ranger” campaign pan out?

Posted on : 2022-01-06 17:42 KST Modified on : 2022-01-06 17:42 KST
The dissolution of Korea’s primary conservative party’s election committee has prompted mixed both hope and concern
Yoon Suk-yeol, People Power Party candidate for president, takes the elevator at the party’s headquarters following his public appearances on Wednesday. (pool photo)
Yoon Suk-yeol, People Power Party candidate for president, takes the elevator at the party’s headquarters following his public appearances on Wednesday. (pool photo)

On Wednesday, just 63 days out from South Korea’s presidential election, People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol effectively canned Kim Chong-in, general chair of his election committee, and declared that he would run his campaign himself. Yoon’s decision to dissolve his election committee and run a streamlined, practical-minded campaign oriented around himself has triggered a mixture of hopes and concerns.

“I ought to have reassured the public through effective leadership of my election campaign and the People Power Party, but I failed to do that. As the candidate, I’m entirely to blame for that. As of today, I will dissolve my election committee,” Yoon said in a press conference held on Wednesday at the party’s headquarters in the Yeouido neighborhood of Seoul.

Yoon officially rejected a plan for reorganizing the election committee that Kim Chong-in had proposed without prior discussion and effectively dismissed Kim as well. On Monday, Kim had proposed combining the key functions of policymaking, political decisions, and public relations in a single general headquarters under his direct authority.

Yoon also promised to sideline key associates who have been the topic of ongoing rumors. “I fully understand that the public is concerned that my close associates are having an impact on the election committee. I won’t trouble you with such matters in the future,” he said.

PPP Secretary-General Kweon Seong-dong and PPP lawmaker Yoon Han-hong, who are believed to be the subject of those rumors, both stepped down from positions in the party and the election committee on Wednesday.

Yoon has also decided to appoint four-term lawmaker Kwon Young-se to lead his election headquarters and to disband all departments of his campaign except for the most critical, which include organization, policy, strategy, and public relations. Kwon, a former prosecutor, graduated from the law school at Seoul National University two years before Yoon; he also served as head of the general situation room in the central election committee of Park Geun-hye, then with the Saenuri Party (a forerunner of the PPP), during her successful presidential run in 2012.

Yoon’s decision — which boils down to dissolving the election committee and parting ways with Kim Chong-in — is seen as a declaration that he will chart his own course in a presidential election that’s little over 60 days away.

Yoon placed the emphasis on what first sparked his run for office: his commitment to bringing down the current government. “I set out on my political career with the single goal of unseating the current administration. I promised to restore fairness and common sense, which have been wrecked under the Moon Jae-in administration. I will return to the original Yoon Suk-yeol that the public was expecting,” he said.

Yoon has chosen this course with the strategic goal of emphasizing the tenacity and determination with which he resisted the Moon administration.

The PPP’s presidential candidate also used his press conference to woo younger voters, whose support he has been rapidly shedding. “I have been seriously reflecting upon previous behavior that has disappointed voters in their 20s and 30s, and I promise to show you something completely different from that,” Yoon said.

Some in the PPP are hopeful about Yoon’s decision. “Yoon needs to take this opportunity to turn over a new leaf. He needs to watch his words and read up on technical issues to show he’s improved,” one veteran lawmaker told the Hankyoreh.

But there are also considerable concerns. Particularly concerning is the loss of Kim Chong-in, who had attracted moderates and compensated for Yoon’s shortcomings in policy and political affairs.

Since Yoon has declared he’ll run the election as he sees fit, some think he may return to the hardline conservative stance — complete with denunciations of the current administration, ideological attacks and harsh language — that had tanked his support numbers. The election committee may have been reorganized, but the candidate himself, who is ultimately to blame for softening support in the polls, remains a risk.

“Given Yoon’s lack of political experience, the fact is that there are concerns about whether he can send the appropriate message and make political judgments. If he can refrain from making the kind of nonsensical remarks we’ve seen previously, he might be able to turn things around,” said Choi Chang-ryeol, a professor at Yong In University. “But if he keeps making errors and doing and saying the wrong things, he’ll find himself in some very hot water”

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter

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

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