President Moon Jae-in marks two years in office Thursday, and his presidency faces daunting challenges on many fronts -- from North Korea to the economy to political and social polarization.
Indeed, South Koreans are giving Moon relatively poor grades for his performance as chief executive. The latest public opinion survey conducted by Gallup Korea provides insight into the decline of the Moon presidency since he took office at the peak of the public’s outrage against ousted former President Park Geun-hye.
Moon, who started his five-year term with an approval rating of 84 percent, maintained almost the same level of popularity -- 83 percent -- when he celebrated his administration’s first anniversary last May. Since then it has nose-dived to 45 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll, released last week ahead of the second anniversary.
Not surprisingly, Moon received his lowest score for economic management, with only 23 percent of the survey respondents giving him a positive assessment. Appointments of senior officials came next with 26 percent, followed by employment with 29 percent and North Korea policy with 45 percent.
To see how the Moon presidency has fared in the past two years and how Koreans perceive it, additional statistics may not be necessary. Look no further than the latest developments involving North Korea, the economy and the legislature.
Throwing cold water on Moon’s repeated vow to put the stalled denuclearization talks back on track, North Korea on Saturday fired long-range multiple rocket launchers and what it described as “tactical guided weapons” into the East Sea. The guided weapons are believed to be missiles.
North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong-un was present at the “strike drill” and that he had told the military to bear in mind “the iron truth that genuine peace and security are ensured and guaranteed only by powerful strength.”
The latest provocation, apparently measured and calculated, seems intended to pressure the US and South Korea to make concessions in the denuclearization talks, which have been on hiatus since the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump fell through in February.
Inter-Korean relations are also at a standstill, despite all the fanfare and eulogies that surrounded the three summits between Moon and Kim last year. The North’s rejection of the South’s invitation to the first anniversary celebrations, commemorating the initial Moon-Kim summit April 27 at Panmunjom, was further evidence of the North shunning Moon’s reconciliatory approach toward the Pyongyang government.
As the Gallup poll showed, the economy is the area where the Moon administration is causing the biggest concern. His “income-led growth” policy -- highlighted by the rapid increase in the statutory minimum wage and other half-baked measures -- has backfired on the economy, pulling the growth rate down to its lowest level in 10 years and aggravating the already serious job crunch, especially among younger people.
The 2-year-old Moon government is also characterized by unilateralism. The ongoing partisan strife, triggered by the ruling party’s railroading of bills on election reform and judiciary reform, is a case in point.
The legislative dispute drove the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party to boycott parliamentary business and hold anti-government rallies in major cities across the country.
The Moon administration is also facing fierce protests from the state prosecution over the judiciary reform bills, which would establish a new investigative body and otherwise weaken the authority of the nation’s supreme law enforcement agency.
One comical example of the bipolarization of Korean society that the Moon administration’s unilateralism has caused is the partisan petition race on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
The race was started by a petitioner who asked the president to disband the Liberty Korea Party for its actions to block the fast-tracking of the bills. Then another petition was posted, calling for the disbandment of the ruling Democratic Party. The race is still on at the Cheong Wa Dae website.
This preposterous race and the parliamentary standoff that preceded it undermine Moon’s words at his inaugural address.
“I will also change the politics of division and conflict,” he said “The conflict between conservatives and liberals should end.”
Two years on, those words ring hollow.