Opposition parties slam Yoon for defying public sentiment by refusing reshuffle

Posted on : 2022-11-11 16:44 KST Modified on : 2022-11-11 16:58 KST
The president’s refusal to sack senior officials or acquiesce to a parliamentary probe on the Itaewon disaster are being criticized as tactics for dodging responsibility and finding scapegoats
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes a question from the press during his commute to the presidential office in Yongsan on Nov. 10. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes a question from the press during his commute to the presidential office in Yongsan on Nov. 10. (pool photo)

President Yoon Suk-yeol is turning his back on public sentiment by defending his senior presidential secretary for press affairs for passing notes during a parliament meeting. He is also ignoring appeals for a parliamentary investigation into the Itaewon tragedy and the removal of relevant parties from their respective positions. The opposition parties have fired back, saying that the president is mistaken in thinking that he can make it out scot-free if he just hangs in there a little longer.

Fielding questions from reporters on Thursday during his commute to the Yongsan presidential office, Yoon claimed, in response to the controversy surrounding Kim Eun-hye, his press secretary, that “the members of parliament have gone through a lot,” and that “people should try to think of the comprehensive situation.”

In doing so, the president dismissed the opposition’s demand that he remove Kim Eun-hye from her position after insulting the National Assembly by jotting “You’re kidding me” on a notepad during the audit session led by the opposition about the Itaewon crowd crush. Yoon did not even address questions regarding whether he would replace Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min, who oversees the nation’s disaster response departments.

Yoon fought the opposition’s demand for a parliamentary inquiry into the Itaewon disaster by saying that “the public wants the police to investigate the situation and then refer the case to the prosecution service, so that the prosecution can quickly find out the truth about the situation.”

The president’s answer shows he’s chosen the prosecution service to head up the fact-finding investigation rather than an inquiry by the parliament or an independent counsel.

“In the past, every citizen wanted investigation agencies to reveal the truth surrounding cases involving many casualties through forensic and compulsory investigations,” Yoon said.

The Democratic Party and other opposition parties are determined to hold the guilty parties accountable through a parliamentary probe while criticizing Yoon for his efforts to dodge responsibility and find scapegoats.

Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party, stressed the need for a parliamentary probe in a conference of party lawmakers on Thursday. “We obviously need to figure out the cause of this terrible disaster that Koreans suffered while the government was basically out of the picture, and people should be held responsible for that,” the party chief said.

“Koreans want to know where the government was on Oct. 29, and they’re instructing the political parties to make a thorough accounting of what transpired. The time has come for us to obey their stern instructions,” said Lee Jeong-mi, head of the minor opposition Justice Party.

The Justice Party lawmaker made the comments during a rally calling for an investigation of the Itaewon disaster, the prosecution of the people responsible, and a parliamentary probe into the matter. The rally was held in front of the steps leading up to the main building of the National Assembly on Thursday.

The opposition parties have repeatedly called for Yoon to make a public apology and to dismiss those who bear responsibility for the disaster, including Interior Minister Lee Sang-min.

“More than seven out of ten Koreans think the government responded poorly to the Itaewon disaster, and more than half of Koreans are calling for Lee Sang-min’s immediate resignation. I can’t fathom what Yoon is hoping to defend against the flood of public opinion, or how he hopes to do that,” said Democratic Party floor leader Park Hong-keun.

In a comment aimed at Yoon, Justice Party floor leader Lee Eun-joo said, “You should get over your mistaken belief that you just need to hang on a little longer. I strongly urge you to immediately sack Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun and to make an official apology through a public address.”

By Lee Jae-hoon, staff reporter; Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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

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