S. Korean ruling party's resurrection of Moon-era controversies: A bid to rally conservative support?

Posted on : 2022-06-21 16:46 KST Modified on : 2022-06-21 16:46 KST
New investigations into incidents involving North Korea during the Moon administration appear to be aimed at rallying support for the current administration
Kweon Seong-dong, the People Power Party floor leader, takes a sip of water during a party supreme council meeting on June 20. (pool photo)
Kweon Seong-dong, the People Power Party floor leader, takes a sip of water during a party supreme council meeting on June 20. (pool photo)

It appears the People Power Party (PPP) is attempting to shift the public’s focus to alleged mistakes made by the previous administration in an attempt to rally some much-needed support from conservatives.

The ruling party announced they will launch investigations into the death of a public official in the West Sea in 2020 and the repatriation of North Korean defectors in 2019.

Due to the ongoing economic crisis, a series of personnel appointment scandals, and controversy over his wife Kim Keon-hee, some say that President Yoon Suk-yeol is trying to rally conservative support to climb his way out of the low approval ratings his administration is currently facing.

At a meeting of the PPP’s Supreme Council held at the National Assembly on Monday, Kweon Seong-dong, the party’s floor leader, criticized the former Moon administration for labeling the slain South Korean public official a defector to the North.

“A South Korean public official was brutally murdered by North Korea, but the government gave legitimacy to the North Korean atrocities and caused secondary victimization to the bereaved family by labeling the official as a defector,” Kweon said.

“If there is any doubt about the [circumstances surrounding the] death of even a single person, it is common sense to disclose it,” he added.

The PPP floor leader went on to say that the government will also investigate the case of forcibly repatriated North Korean sailors in November 2019.

“It makes no sense that the entire incident was belatedly made public while the government tried to push for forced repatriation in strict secrecy,” Kweon said, adding that it was necessary to find out the truth and what was being hidden as well as what kind of procedure led to the decision to repatriate the two defectors.

The 2019 case was brought up a mere four days after the ruling party began discussing the 2020 case of the public official’s death in waters off of Korea’s western coast.

The incident that took place in 2019 refers to a case in which the Moon Jae-in administration sent two North Korean sailors who had defected via the East Sea back to the North via Panmunjom only five days after they were captured.

At the time, the government said that they were not subject to protection as refugees under international law, saying that they escaped after killing 16 fellow crew members, including the captain, in protest of the captain's “harsh” behavior.

However, at that time, the Liberty Korea Party (the precursor of the PPP) protested, forming a task force to find out the truth and demanding a state investigation.

Similarly, on Tuesday, the PPP decided to launch its own task force to investigate the 2020 death of the public official.

In a radio interview with MBC, Ha Tae-keung, the PPP lawmaker who will lead the task force, accused the Moon administration of manipulating and exaggerating circumstantial evidence, such as the public official’s gambling debts.

In addition, the PPP appointed Thae Young-ho, a former North Korean diplomat turned South Korean politician, as the chairman of the party’s international committee. The committee serves as a channel for communication with foreign political parties, social organizations, and international organizations — which seems to hint at the party’s intention of highlighting North Korean human rights issues.

Thae once apologized for making false remarks suggesting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was in ill health in May 2020.

On his way to the presidential office in Yongsan on Monday, Yoon asked, ”Isn't it a problem for the government to show a passive stance if the people have any questions about the murder of the civil servant in the West Sea?"

By shifting the focus back to the alleged “wrongdoings” of the previous administration, experts say that the Yoon government is trying to revive his administration’s dwindling momentum, which has been weak since his inauguration.

According to various opinion polls, Yoon's approval rating is lower than 50%. The economy is also in a difficult situation amid high oil prices, high inflation, and high interest rates.

Political commentator Park Sang-byeong said, "The only way for the Yoon administration to break through the difficulties is to raise the approval rating, and the North Korean issue is a good item to strongly unite the [party’s] existing supporters."

Jang Seong-cheol, professor at Daegu Catholic University, said the Yoon administration is “trying to break down the foundation of the former government through attacks accusing the Moon administration of neglecting the lives and safety of the people, and now even trying to impose legal responsibility.”

"You can also detect their intention to divert public criticism from the presidential office, including the controversy over Kim Keon-hee," Jang said.

By Kim Hae-jeong, staff reporter

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

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