[Editorial] Silence won’t save Yoon

Posted on : 2024-07-01 16:58 KST Modified on : 2024-07-01 16:58 KST
The president’s alleged suggestion that the Itaewon crowd crush may have been orchestrated or manufactured isn’t an issue that will just blow over
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at the 54th Korea National Prayer Breakfast held in Gangnam, Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2022. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at the 54th Korea National Prayer Breakfast held in Gangnam, Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2022. (pool photo)

President Yoon Suk-yeol is facing mounting blowback after the former speaker of the National Assembly alleged that the president suggested that the deadly 2022 crowd crush in Itaewon had been orchestrated during a conversation between the two. 

Even members of the president’s own party are demanding that Yoon make public everything he said during the meeting and clarify his words to the public. An online petition calling for Yoon to be impeached rapidly gained momentum after the revelations were made public, garnering over 700,000 signatures as of Sunday, a reflection of the shock and dissatisfaction regarding Yoon’s presidency among the Korean public. 

Yoon, however, is opting to stay silent in what can only be characterized as an unparalleled shirking of responsibility. If the president thinks he can have his office claim that the former speaker distorted what he said and everything will blow over, he is gravely mistaken. 

On Friday, former National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo posted on his Facebook page, “It’s regrettable that this issue has become a public controversy, despite my intentions.” However, Kim did not recant what he wrote about Yoon’s comments. At this point, the president needs to make a public statement before the public’s suspicions reach a tipping point. If there is something to admit, he must admit it. If there is something to apologize or take responsibility for, then he must do so.  

The scandal can be traced back to a conversation Kim had with the president, as it appeared in Kim’s recently published memoir. During the conversation, which took place in December 2022 according to Kim, Kim suggested that Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min resign over the botched response to the Itaewon tragedy. Yoon reportedly responded, “You can’t rule out the possibility that the accident was instigated and arranged by certain groups. In that case, it would be unfair if Lee were forced to step down.” 

In response to calls for Lee’s replacement a little over a month earlier, Yoon responded, “You can only blame someone when there is a clear person to blame.” At the time, it was difficult to understand why Yoon was protecting Lee, but the recent revelations have made it clear as day. 

If, as some suspect, Yoon denied any fault on Lee’s part because he was immersed in the theories disseminated on YouTube by far-right conspiracy theorists who argued the Itaewon crowd crush was orchestrated or a hoax, it would be enough for the public to have serious questions about his “presidential qualifications,” to borrow the words of Lee Jun-seok, the leader of the Reform Party. 

The presidential office’s statement included a line saying that Yoon “had ordered investigations into all the many suspicions raised by the press and the media at the time.” Yet this only raises further suspicions that Yoon is trying to pass off his calls for investigations based on right-wing conspiracy theories as an order to look into “suspicions raised by the press.”

Yoon already is facing allegations of having lost his composure when it came to the investigation into the death of a Marine and trying to shield the commanding officer from the probe, then trying to deny his involvement. How did we get to a point where opinions about the direction of the country are being met with such a continuous lack of common sense? Yoon is obliged to provide some answers. 

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

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