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Published : 2016-10-19 17:05
Updated : 2016-10-19 21:54

Faced with attacks from both conservative foes and fellow liberals, Moon Jae-in, in 2012, had urged political parties to stop questioning his ability to deal with inter-Korea relations as a presidential candidate.

“They are relying on McCarthyist tactics to launch yet another vicious ideological attacks,” Moon had said, then running for the country‘s top job on the ticket of the New Politics Alliance of Democracy, a precursor to today’s Minjoo Party of Korea.

Throughout the 2012 race, Moon had struggled with an allegation that the former Roh Moo-hyun administration compromised its position with North Korea on a territorial dispute. Having served the Roh administration as the presidential chief of staff, Moon was eventually defeated by then Saenuri Party‘s candidate Park Geun-hye.

Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

With about a year left to the 2017 election, a similar challenge appears to loom over Moon’s second presidential bid. 

The opposition party’s frontrunner is being denounced for accepting the proposal to inquire of North Korea about whether Seoul should vote to adopt a 2007 UN resolution condemning Pyeongyang’s human rights situation.

The scandal presents Moon with a question about his presidential bid: Will the 63-year-old activist-turned-politician, who has ranked the most favorite presidential candidate among the opposition bloc for months, succumb to the same fate as he did in the previous election? 

“It is a whole different situation,” said Minjoo Party floor leader Rep. Woo Sang-ho. “Back then, Moon fell into the trap made by Saenuri. But now, I don’t think Saenuri knows what they are doing. The fight won’t last long.” 

But the squabble has persisted longer than the whip expected and -- regardless of whether Saenuri had indeed engineered the political fight -- the pressure appeared to mount against the opposition parties’ frontrunner. 

Saenuri has pulled out all the stops. Casting Moon as a “sympathizer” to the North, the conservative party established a special committee to investigate the case and considers a plan to press charge against him for violating national security law. 

Their attacks have been fueled as Moon remained defensive. Since the allegation first surfaced, he has neither confirmed nor denied whether he approved of the proposal to ask North Korea about Seoul’s UN votes. 

When asked about the allegation by the reporters on Tuesday, Moon replied “We promised not to ask these questions, didn’t we.” A day earlier, he said that he “didn’t quite remember” about the meeting where Moon and former Cabinet members attended to discuss the voting issue. 

Instead, Moon continued to rebuke Saenuri attacks as a stint, accusing conservative lawmakers of labeling opposition lawmakers for advocating pro-North Korea ideology to divert the public attention away from the bribery scandal surrounding President Park’s close associates. 

“Whenever elections approache, Saenuri has always employed McCarthyist tactics,” Moon told reporters on Wednesday. “It is like a chronic disease. I will use (the scandal) as an opportunity to fix such bad behavior.”

His strategy, however, did not resonate well with other liberal heavyweights such as the People’s Party interim leader Rep. Park jie-won, one of the staunchest advocate of rapprochement policy toward Pyeongyang. 

“I doubt Moon has the leadership to navigate through a crisis,” said Park, who defected from then main oppostion NPAD that Moon had led before the latest April general election. “Instead of flip-flopping, I urged Moon to come forward and tell the people about the truth. He needs to end this debate.”

Known for professional integrity and ethical behavior during his stint as the president’s chief adviser, Moon entered politics as a lawmaker in 2012 after the former president Roh took his own life in 2009 amid a bribery scandal involving his associates. 

Though being defeated by President Park in the 2012 presidential election -- the tightest race in South Korea’s modern history -- Moon was elected as the leader of the NPAD on the back of rank-and-file members royal to president Roh and his liberal values. 

But his tenure was marked by constant strife between the pro-Roh faction and its dissenters. The internal feud prompted some liberal heavyweights such as former presidential hopeful Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo to create his own People’s Party.

Political analysts noted that the memoir scandal could be watershed moment for Moon, who last month launched his own think-tank with more than 600 political and economic experts in what observers saw as “de facto” declaration of presidential bid. 

“If he passes this test, it would place him on a frontrunner status,” said Seoul-based political think tank Moa Agenda Strategy in its weekly report. “But he would be in serious trouble, if he shows ambiguity on the issue.”

By Yeo Jun-suk  (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)