[Column] Moon Jae-in’s dark legacy in Yoon Suk-yeol

Posted on : 2022-02-04 16:52 KST Modified on : 2022-02-04 16:52 KST
Moon’s speedy appointment of Yoon as prosecutor general will surely go down as a grave error
A crowd of protesters bearing candles fill the Gwanghwamun Square on Feb. 18, 2017, during the candlelight protests. (Kang Chang-kwang/The Hankyoreh)
A crowd of protesters bearing candles fill the Gwanghwamun Square on Feb. 18, 2017, during the candlelight protests. (Kang Chang-kwang/The Hankyoreh)
Shin Seung-keun
Shin Seung-keun
By Shin Seung-keun, politics editor

Professor Emeritus Byun Hyung-yoon of Seoul National University along with 130 members of a civic group calling for the formation of a democratic reform government stated on Jan. 28 that “an ahistorical and antidemocratic force is attempting to overturn the times,” adding that “citizens of the candlelight movement of 2017 who devoted themselves to ensure the survival of Korean democracy today should step forward again and protect [democracy] through their votes.”

Though there are only 30 days left until the presidential election, People Power Party presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol is still grappling with controversies pertaining to himself, his wife and his mother-in-law. There’s no shortage of things for him to worry about.

To be sure, there are already plenty of reasons why Koreans who took part in the candlelight protests wouldn’t vote for Yoon.

There’s his anachronistic attitudes and behavior, which include fomenting division between men and women in their twenties and thirties, stirring up anti-Chinese sentiment, and addressing North Korea only as an adversary. There’s also his reliance on simplistic slogans such as abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and deploying another battery of the THAAD missile defense system.

Yet support for Yoon has held steady despite all that. The only apparent reason is the public desire to give power to the other side.

The five years of Moon Jae-in’s administration haven’t turned out as we hoped. The candlelight protesters entrusted the presidency to Moon Jae-in, the “rightful heir” of former President Roh Moo-hyun, and charged him with castigating those who had exploited power for their own ends. But the results have been disappointing.

Those voters expected that inequality and unfairness would be redressed, just as Moon had himself promised in his inaugural address when he said that “there will be equal opportunity, due process, and a just outcome” under his administration and the Democratic Party.

But Moon’s performance has been dismal. He boldly promised not to be bamboozled by the speculators, but his real estate policy proved to be his administration’s worst debacle.

Nor does Moon have anything to show in terms of political reform. Electoral reform ended up being a symbol of his betrayal. When the conservative party created a satellite party in order to counteract Korea’s system of semi-mixed member proportional representation, Moon and the Democratic Party followed suit, and then justified their actions, without even trying to stop the conservatives.

Instead of making a bigger pie for the broader progressive movement, the Democratic Party stabbed the Justice Party in the back and made Sim Sang-jung and the rest of the party leadership look like a bunch of bumbling naifs.

That gave the Democratic Party 180 seats in the 2020 general election — an unlikely blowout that would indeed have been impossible if not for Korea’s remarkable success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic — but even afterward, nothing changed.

By-elections were held for the mayoralties of Seoul and Busan after sexual misconduct by Democratic Party politicians, but the party ran candidates in those elections, in violation of its own constitution and rules. Once again, it came up with a pretext to justify its behavior.

Now, party leader Song Young-gil has promised not to nominate candidates for three seats in the National Assembly (including Jongno in Seoul) vacated by Democratic Party members. But many assume the Democratic Party was browbeaten into doing so. That’s no better than closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

And what about the “Gwanghwamun era” that Moon promised to usher in? Now Yoon has pledged that he’ll move his office to the Central Government Complex in Gwanghwamun on his first day in office. This seems to have become a go-to pledge for presidential candidates.

Blue House officials brag about how Moon’s approval rating is higher than any other president’s. But they ought to think carefully about what the civic group said: “Rather than getting caught up in pleasant-sounding delusions about Moon Jae-in never going through a lame duck period, they need to apologize to members of the younger generation who have no hope and no future.”

“Yoon’s candidacy is the dark legacy of this Democratic Party-led administration. It’s the backlash to our arrogance and hypocrisy,” confessed Song, the party leader, in a fairly impartial appraisal.

That “dark legacy” is seeking to rise to the heights of power and become a luminary in his own right. If Yoon succeeds in his design, it would be the most awful of ironies for the “candlelight administration” that took on the mission of reforming Korea’s prosecution service. Moon’s speedy appointment of Yoon as prosecutor general will surely go down as a grave error.

Kim Dong-chun, a professor at Sungkonghoe University, recently posted the following message on Facebook: “From the very outset, Moon Jae-in and the Democratic Party were little prepared and had no blueprint for bringing about proper change in this society. Nevertheless, we mustn’t allow them to be defeated by the People Power Party and reactionaries. We may not like Moon, but that’s no reason to cynically go along with a reactionary coup d’etat. As for the zeitgeist in the presidential election, we’re unfortunately past the stage of discussing that. We have to stop the coup.”

Some will no doubt dispute Kim’s view that putting another party in power through an election is a coup d’etat. Coup or not, we have to persuade the public if we’re to stop it.

As civic groups have requested, Moon needs to make a sincere apology and show remorse. And Lee Jae-myung, candidate for the Democratic Party, needs to clearly show why he ought to be president. He needs to agonize over why the candlelight protesters think he lacks sincerity despite his silver tongue, and why they view him as a sleek member of the establishment, despite claiming the humble origins of Roh Moo-hyun.

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

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