Moon sends strong messages amid LH speculation scandal

Posted on : 2021-03-15 16:43 KST Modified on : 2021-03-15 16:43 KST
Experts say anxiety is driving Moon’s change in tone and expression
South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party at the Blue House on Wednesday. (provided by the Blue House)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party at the Blue House on Wednesday. (provided by the Blue House)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s expressions and the intensity of those expressions have changed. These changes have come to the fore ever since accusations emerged of insider property speculation among employees of the Korea Land & Housing Corporation (LH) in the third phase of development of residential “new towns.”

Another sign that things are not business as usual was Moon’s persistent commentary on the issue from Mar. 3 to Mar. 8, excluding the weekend. He used, for example, highly charged expressions such as “eradicating sources of evil” and “liquidating deep-rooted evil.”

Byun Chang-heum, the head of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT), was also fired 74 days after taking office. It is clear that Moon is departing from his past preference of avoiding censuring people for misconduct.

Moon has mentioned “LH” almost daily ever since he ordered an investigation into whether property speculation occurred in the third phase development of new towns among employees of departments related to the development of new areas for residential housing, including MOLIT, LH, and other relevant public agencies.

The intensity of his expressions on the matter has grown as time has passed, with him calling for the “eradication of sources of evil regarding accusations of new town speculation” on Mar. 4, demanding the “total mobilization of all administrative and investigative power held by the state” on Mar. 8, and commenting on the need for “eradication of deep-rooted evil in the real estate [market]” on Friday.

Moon’s acceptance of Byun’s resignation can plainly be seen as the Moon administration’s first “firing of a government official.” Ahn Byung-jin, a professor at Kyunghee University’s Global Academy for Future Civilizations, told the Hankyoreh in a phone call Sunday that “even President Moon, who has such a prudent manner toward personnel matters that it can feel like he’s indecisive, judged that the real estate issue is sensitive enough that it could invite the wrath of the people.”

Moon’s response on Facebook to an issue raised by the People Power Party (PPP) about the procedures involved in the alteration of land on Moon’s private residence in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, has led to backbiting. In the post, Moon said that “I understand [the issue was raised] because it’s election season, but do you really have to go that far?” while also noting that raising the land alteration issue was “petty and disconcerting.”

Some have pointed out that these comments “don’t seem like President Moon.” Moon had ignored past controversy of the purchase of land for his private residence in Yangsan; however, it appears he believed he could no longer stay silent when the opposition party accused him of using “LH tactics” by first purchasing farmland and then altering it. Moon reportedly wrote the response on Facebook himself.

Moon has been criticized for responding directly to the opposition party’s attack instead of letting members of the ruling party or his Blue House advisors take on the issue for him.

The head of the political consulting firm MIN Consulting, Park Sung-min, told the Hankyoreh that “The president did express anger about an issue involving himself, but because the issue was raised by the opposition party, it was not good from the standpoint of getting one’s message across to immediately respond to it. I think there’s an issue in how the Blue House handles its affairs.”

Choi Chang-ryul, a professor at Yong In University, said that “The president’s direct involvement and use of the expression ‘petty’ to criticize the opposition party is [a sign] that he has jumped into the middle of the political contest.”

Choi went on to say that Moon “felt a sense of crisis about the spread of ill-feeling toward the ruling party and is unwittingly responding in a sensitive way.”

Experts suggest that the reason for changes in how Moon expresses himself is due to “anxiety.” There is also the embarrassment of having the issue of real estate – an issue that has been the most threatening of all during his tenure – tie him down during his last year in office.

Ahn said that “the LH issue is connected to the real lives of the people and is the administration’s weakest link” and that “[Moon] needs to present an agenda that goes far beyond what the public is thinking if he is to avoid becoming a lame duck, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”

Choi also said that “if the [ruling party] wins the Seoul mayorship in the [upcoming] by-elections, there will be an opportunity to manage this situation, but it doesn’t seem like that will be easy because popular sentiment has gotten so bad.”

According to the results of a survey conducted by opinion poll company STI on 1,000 voters in Seoul from Friday to Saturday (with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error ±3.1%), regardless of whether PPP candidate Oh Se-hoon or People Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo emerge as the unified candidate from the opposition bloc, Democratic Party candidate Park Young-son is behind in the polls by around 20 points. In response to a question asking whether the LH speculation scandal will impact the Seoul mayoral election, 75.4% of the respondents said that the scandal “will have an impact.”

By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

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