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[Newsmaker] Former mentor Yoon returns to Ahn

Conservative strategist’s move raises unease across political arena

Former Environment Minister Yoon Yeo-jun (Yonhap News)
Former Environment Minister Yoon Yeo-jun (Yonhap News)

Former Environment Minister Yoon Yeo-jun has once again created a stir in the political arena by joining independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo’s “new politics” movement.

In 2012, Yoon sent ripples across the conservative bloc when he joined the presidential campaign of the Democratic Party’s Rep. Moon Jae-in. The move, unexpected because of his long-running conservative ties, earned him strong criticism including being branded a “political prostitute” from disgraced former Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Yoon Chang-joong.

While far milder, the conservatives began attacking Yoon for the decision even before it was officially announced.

“Yoon Yeo-jun: Lee Hoe-chang, Park Geun-hye, Ahn Cheol-soo, Moon Jae-in and again to Ahn Cheol-soo. If (Yoon) is a paid election planner it would be understandable, but this is not right, Mr. Yoon,” Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the ruling Saenuri Party wrote on his Twitter account on Saturday after Yoon’s move was made known.

In 1998, Yoon served as the state affairs aide to then-Grand National Party chairman Lee Hoi-chang, and headed the GNP’s planning committee for the general elections in 2000. The GNP is the predecessor of the Saenuri Party that was established in February 2012.

Following the election, in which the party took 133 parliamentary seats to become the largest party, Yoon entered the National Assembly as a legislator. Yoon returned to help the GNP in the 2004 general elections, this time under President Park Geun-hye’s leadership.

Aside from his official capacity as a key player within the conservative bloc, Yoon is reputed to have been Ahn’s political mentor before the 2011 Seoul mayoral election. Their relationship, however, deteriorated following Ahn’s statement that the former environment minister was only one of hundreds of people who could be deemed as his mentor.

Yoon’s intimacy with power, however, began long before he entered the political arena.

After working as a public relations chief at the Korean embassies to Japan and Singapore in the late 1970s, Yoon went on to serve as a public relations secretary under former President Chun Doo-hwan. In the Roh Tae-woo administration that followed, Yoon worked as a secretary for political affairs and as a special secretary on matters regarding the national security agency that has since become the National Intelligence Service. Under former President Kim Young-sam, Yoon was promoted to the post of chief public relations secretary and headed the Ministry of Environment for a time

The Saenuri Party also appears to be trying to bring up Yoon’s experience as a political strategist to undermine Ahn’s “new politics” agenda.

“I think that there needs to be much consideration and much deliberation on whether he is suited to the new politics Rep. Ahn talks of,” Saenuri Party secretary general Rep. Hong Moon-jong said on Sunday, commenting that Yoon was well equipped to attack the conservatives as he has intimate knowledge about the political right.

By Choi He-suk (