Opposition calls Yoon’s chief of staff appointment a ‘slap in the face’

Posted on : 2024-04-23 16:29 KST Modified on : 2024-04-23 16:29 KST
Chung Jin-suk’s history of attacking figures across the aisle has the president’s gesture at inter-party communication off to a rocky start
President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) stands with his newly appointed chief of staff, Chung Jin-suk (center), and his former chief of staff, Lee Kwan-sup, as he announces a personnel reshuffle at the presidential office on April 22, 2024. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) stands with his newly appointed chief of staff, Chung Jin-suk (center), and his former chief of staff, Lee Kwan-sup, as he announces a personnel reshuffle at the presidential office on April 22, 2024. (Yonhap)

On Monday, President Yoon Suk-yeol appointed Chung Jin-suk as his new chief of staff and Hong Chul-ho as senior presidential secretary for political affairs. By appointing two politicians to senior positions, Yoon’s picks appear to be aimed at strengthening the presidential office’s coordination with the legislative branch and increasing communication with the opposition party. 

Despite this, the opposition is not pleased with the president’s appointment of Chung, who has repeatedly attacked progressive figures, getting the government’s first personnel reshuffle since the April 10 general elections off to a rocky start. 

When announcing the appointment of Chung, Yoon emphasized his hopes for “amicable communication with all sectors, including the Cabinet, [ruling] party, opposition party, media, and civil society.” 

Highlighting Chung’s track record as a five-term lawmaker, former senior secretary for political affairs at the Blue House under Lee Myung-bak, and deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Yoon emphasized how his pick stood apart from his previous chiefs of staff, Kim Dae-ki and Lee Kwan-sup, who were veteran bureaucrats. 

Yoon introduced Hong, a two-term lawmaker from Seoul, saying that he was “highly recommended for his excellent communication and people skills." Yoon’s previous senior secretary for political affairs, Han Oh-seop, never served in the National Assembly.

Chung is a key figure belonging to the pro-Yoon Suk-yeol camp of the ruling party, even introducing himself as "someone who encouraged the president to dedicate himself to politics.” As such, Chung’s appointment can also be interpreted as Yoon trying to maintain control while managing his relations with the ruling PPP, which are likely to falter after the party’s defeat in the general elections earlier this month. 

The problem, however, is that the opposition party — with which Yoon says he is trying to strengthen communication — collectively criticized Chung’s appointment. The current atmosphere is a far cry from Yoon’s desired mood for dialogue and cooperation. 

Ahead of the one-on-one meeting between Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung and Yoon, the top opposition party’s spokesperson strongly criticized Chung’s appointment. 

“[Chung] was convicted of defamation against former President Roh Moo-hyun and received a prison sentence. He is also someone who has issued a barrage of insults and criticism against the leader of the main opposition party,” spokesperson Han Min-soo said, referring to Yoon’s appointment as “disregarding” the people's mandate to transform the current government’s poor communication skills. 

“[President Yoon] is holding out one hand for a handshake but slapping [Lee] with the other hand,” an aide of Lee said.

Chung was sentenced to six months in prison in his first trial last August on charges of defaming the deceased former president by spreading false information that his death was caused by a marital dispute. He is currently undergoing an appeals trial. 

It’s also worth noting that when Lee Jae-myung requested a one-on-one meeting with Yoon in January 2023, Chung, who was then serving as the PPP’s interim leader, responded by stating that “the president will not meet with a current criminal suspect.”

Chung also came under fire in November 2022 for claiming that the Itaewon crowd crush disaster was caused by protesters associated with the Democratic Party. 

Kim Bo-hyeop, a spokesperson for the Rebuilding Korea Party, also criticized Chung, referring to him as having “significant responsibility for the failure of state affairs” and his appointment as “going against the will of the people expressed through the April 10 general elections.”

Criticism has also emerged from within the ruling PPP regarding Chung’s changing of the party leadership election process ahead of the PPP’s national convention in March 2023. According to the new rules, the party’s leadership would be elected through only party member votes, excluding public opinion polls, thus favoring the pro-Yoon camp. 

On Monday, PPP lawmaker Kim Woong took to Facebook to share his thoughts on Chung’s appointment. 

"The most fundamental reason our party has fallen apart is that we got rid of the [system of] electing the party leader through the party convention at the direction of the president and hastily devised new party convention rules to solely reflect the views of party members,” he wrote, pointing to how this greatly benefited Yoon.  
“In the end, the appointment of Chung as chief of staff is a declaration to the nation that [the administration] will stick with its one-way approach, as it has done for the past two years.”

Chung, on the other hand, told reporters, “I will try my best to speak [to the president] from an objective perspective and in a way that meets the public’s standards.”

By Lee Seung-jun, staff reporter; Um Ji-won, staff reporter; Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

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

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