[Editorial] Koreans sent a loud and clear message to Yoon

Posted on : 2024-04-11 17:08 KST Modified on : 2024-04-11 17:08 KST
The 32-year-high 67% turnout rate for Wednesday’s elections shows just how disappointed and angry South Korean voters are
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes part in a follow-up meeting on livelihood issues at the presidential office in Seoul on April 4, 2024. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes part in a follow-up meeting on livelihood issues at the presidential office in Seoul on April 4, 2024. (Yonhap)

The public’s message was stern and solemn. Korea’s parliamentary elections on Wednesday ended with a crushing defeat for the People Power Party (PPP), which currently holds the presidency.

At the surface level, it was a judgment passed on the ruling party. But it should also be rightly seen as the public rescinding much of the trust they put in President Yoon Suk-yeol. It was a report card for a period of two years in office that has been consistently plagued with arrogance, hypocrisy, unwillingness to communicate, and regressive politics.

Yoon will now find his capabilities hamstrung even more as he faces a National Assembly with a larger opposition representation once the newly elected lawmakers are sworn in. Any normal functioning of the ship of state will be impossible without active collaboration with those across the aisle.

The election results are a message from the public calling for a complete overhaul of the administration’s abnormal approach to governance. They want an end to “one-way traffic” administration. Now it is time for Yoon to respond.

He should start by humbly taking to heart the sentiments expressed in this election outcome. After all, it is entirely his own doing.

Just two years ago, the presidential election saw the South Korean public entrust Yoon with the presidency, choosing the path of “fairness and common sense” that he advocated. But once he took office, he marched in the exact opposite direction.

The gross double standards seen with situations like the allegations of a coverup in the investigation of a Marine who died during a flood response, or with first lady Kim Keon-hee’s acceptance of a Dior bag as a gift and allegations of her involvement in Deutsch Motors stock price manipulation, represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Yoon undermined the public’s trust and patience himself with his decision just before the election to appoint former Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup — a key suspect in the investigation coverup case — to serve as South Korea’s ambassador to Australia.

That isn’t all. Over the past two years, life hasn’t gotten better for the majority of South Koreans.

People who have already been buckling under deepening income inequality and soaring prices were treated to the sight of the president holding up a pre-staged bundle of green onions costing 875 won and declaring it to be a “reasonable price.” This amounted to rubbing salt in the public’s wounds.

Meanwhile, no headway at all has been made on the bold promises of labor, education and pension reforms. That has a lot to do with the administration’s hostility toward the very idea of cooperation and dialogue with the opposition.

Instead, it has exhausted the public with anachronistic ideological battles and talk about abolishing ambiguously defined “cartels.” It has filled key government positions with associates and fellow former prosecutors who are completely lacking in political administration experience, while looking to investigations by prosecutors — rather than the public’s feelings — for the driving force behind its governing activities.

This is to say nothing of its authoritarian practice of refusing to tolerate any critical press coverage, as witnessed in the controversy over a “misheard” hot microphone gaffe about US President Joe Biden.

Wielding vetoes right and left, the Yoon administration has disregarded the legislative branch, while refusing to even meet with the leader of the main opposition party because he is a “defendant” on trial. It has compromised the independence of party politics by routinely switching out PPP leaders in order to control that organization as well.

As it became increasingly apparent that the election was going to go badly for him, Yoon did not shy away from overt interference under the guise of “livelihood roundtables.” Did he expect that his barrage of mostly construction-focused promises would translate into votes for his party?

By the final stretch, he was trying to turn things around by positioning one of his closest associates, former Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon, as ruling party leader. Even that was not enough to prevent a rout.

The fact that the 67% turnout rate for this election was the highest in 32 years shows just how disappointed and angry South Korean voters are. Ultimately, the PPP’s dismal performance was Yoon getting his just deserts.

The public has been vocal in calling for a change in the administration’s overall approach to affairs of state. Finally, they have been forced to show a yellow card.

As a first step, Yoon himself needs to change. When the PPP badly lost the by-election race for the chief of Seoul’s Gangseo District last year, he declared, “The people are always right. There are no excuses for any criticisms they make.”

This was the plea he made to his aides, yet he failed to keep the promise himself. He cannot afford to repeat this mistake. If he keeps up the intransigence, hypocrisy and regressive practices after this election, the next card raised is going to be red.

When it comes to answering the public’s hopes, the most fundamental part will be reflection on the administration’s overall approach over the past two years. Yoon also should not shy away from shaking up the staffing of his Cabinet and presidential office. He needs some sort of clear action to prove his willingness to change. Needless to say, this also includes cooperation.

The opposition came away from this election with more seats than expected. But a closer look shows that this was not simply a reflection of how good a job it has done. Instead, the opposition was gifted with a windfall thanks to the incompetence and missteps of Yoon and the ruling party.

The election emphatically showed the true nature of things: When you follow the public’s wishes, they will give you their votes, and when you defy those wishes, they will pass judgment on you. It’s a point that the opposition should recognize with some trepidation.

Quite a few issues occurred within the opposition during its nomination and campaigning process. A number of candidates revealed themselves to be severely underqualified to be members of parliament.

The election period was marred by the sort of hate speech, misstatements, and politics of exclusion that cannot be allowed to continue. Obviously, the ruling party was most at fault for the consistently combative state of the outgoing 21st National Assembly, but the opposition was not entirely free from blame. Now the South Korean public will have to watch and see how productive the large opposition majority can be with its parliamentary politics and whether it has the ability to delegate authority.

The results of Wednesday’s election hammer home once again the simple truth that no power exists that can defeat the public. A clear final warning has been sent to Yoon Suk-yeol, the PPP, and the others who hold power. The opposition has also been sent the signal that it needs to do its job properly.

The president and the ruling and opposition parties need to solemnly take the public’s message to heart.

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


button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles