President Yoon Suk-yeol showed a humble attitude to the “will of the people.” It is desirable.
Taking questions from the press as he returned from a weeklong vacation on Monday, Yoon said that his vacation was a time to reinforce his belief that his duty to the people is to examine their will carefully and uphold it while sticking to his original intentions.
Asked if he has a reshuffle on his mind, he said he would look at all the problems from the perspective of the people and take action if necessary.
In comparison with his earlier disregard of approval ratings, he has obviously changed.
Education Minister Park Soon-ae offered Monday to resign amid criticisms that she created unnecessary controversies by pushing to lower the school entry age without sufficiently listening to public opinions. She stepped down to lessen the political burden on Yoon’s presidency, but it is not enough. Yoon’s approval rating plunged to 27.5 percent, while his disapproval rating soared to 70.1 percent, according to an opinion poll conducted by Korea Society Opinion Institute on Aug. 5 and 6.
In a situation where his disapproval rating is more than double that of his approval, his ambitious policies cannot but lose momentum. The new government pushes education, pension and labor reforms. These tasks are so tough that past administrations were reluctant to touch them for fear of a strong backlash. Without solid popular support, reform will likely fail. Yoon’s remarks, such as “I do not care about approval ratings” is bound to arouse a dogmatic image and antipathy.
The main factors dragging down his approval ratings are controversies over the qualifications of his minister nominees, alleged nepotism and other allegations.
Yoon vowed to appoint only competent figures, but he looked for them in a limited pool of people, most of whom are Seoul National University male graduates in their 50s. A former graduate school classmate of the first lady Kim Keon-hee was found to be working at the presidential office. For now, a major reshuffle to refresh the Cabinet is unreasonable. Just three months have passed since his presidential inauguration. But Yoon needs to consider replacing a few officials who are under fire for their questionable fitness for office. Together with this, he must have the current vetting system rechecked to prevent inappropriate hiring of those personally connected to the first couple.
Recently, new allegations surfaced against Yoon and the first lady. A Buddhist priest said to be close to the couple allegedly misused his relationship with them to get certain benefits. A company that once sponsored Covana Contents, an art exhibition company run by the first lady before her husband became the president, allegedly undertook part in a project to construct a new presidential residence.
People were also let down by Yoon’s sharp retorts to questions from the press and his inappropriate description of the ruling party leader in a mobile text that was accidentally exposed to the press.
When asked about controversial qualifications of some minister nominees, he said, “Have you seen people as great as my nominees among the ministers of past regimes? Compare the quality or something like that of my nominees with the ministers appointed by past administrations.” It’s likely that his self-righteousness made moderate conservatives turn their backs.
More recently, he showed recklessness in sending a mobile text coarsely describing Lee Jun-seok, the suspended current leader of the governing party, as a person who “shoots at insiders” of the party.
Recruitment of presidential staff members was opaque in past administrations. People expected transparency and fairness from Yoon, but they saw that little had changed in the vetting and hiring processes. As Yoon said, he should remember his original intentions and remove the cause of what is dragging down his approval ratings. He should also rush to appoint an inspector who will investigate allegations involving relatives of the first couple. Yoon must also try to communicate with the people as often as possible and give messages that will unite them around him, upon deep reflection.