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[News Focus] Moon’s 40% support faces risks amid Cho Kuk scandals

SEJONG -- The people’s disappointment and fury toward Cho Kuk, a confidant of President Moon Jae-in, is negatively affecting support for Moon, recent polls showed.

Some analysts raised the possibility that Moon’s support rating could dip below the psychologically significant 40 percent mark amid allegations of impropriety in the university entrance of Justice Minister nominee Cho’s daughter.

Cho’s daughter has been suspected of receiving admission from a highly ranked university in Seoul in 2010 with expediency that goes beyond common sense. Some critics have issued allegations that there may have been low-key aid from her parents, including Cho.

The daughter’s college entrance process highlights her activity as a short-term apprentice at a medical school while she was a high school student. A professor of the medical school listed her (then a high school student) as a first-tier author for a co-scientific thesis, written in English.

While it is still unclear whether the thesis during high school ultimately determined her gaining admission to the university despite her shady registration as a main author of the technical-term saddled treatise, the medical professor claimed that Cho’s daughter contributed much to the English version and allowed her registration as a first-tier author because she had wanted to apply for an overseas university.
President Moon Jae-in (right) and Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk, who was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in this photo (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (right) and Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk, who was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in this photo (Yonhap)

But Cho’s daughter applied for a Korean university. Though the state-led yearly college entrance exam is typically the determining factor for admission to the college, personal essays and research accounted for a crucial portion for her application segement. After graduating from the university, she entered a state-funded medical school in Busan, where she received scholarships despite poor academic records.

The daughter also took irregular scholarships from an environment-major graduate school of Seoul National University, although she scrapped her enrollment as she chose to enter the medical graduate school located in Busan.

Her father, who was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs from May 2017 to July 2019 under the Moon administration, had worked as a law professor at Seoul National University.

Most of all, the core of people’s anger lies in the fact that Cho has been one of a few leftist figures to aggressively denounce the “unfair” entrance to high-ranked colleges among some children from the bracket with vested rights or wealth, and he has cast tough skepticism over the existence of elite high schools such as foreign language-specialized schools and autonomous private schools.

But his daughter graduated from a foreign language-specialized school in Seoul, paradoxically, after entering it from an overseas stay in her teen years.

More and more online commenters are describing Cho as a hypocrite. And many of them clarified again that their participation in the candlelit vigils in late 2016 was not for the sake of Moon’s election in 2017 but for righteousness in the nation, regardless of political ideals.

According to a survey conducted by Gallup Korea on 1,000 South Koreans between Aug 20-22, President Moon’s approval rating fell to 45 percent, compared to 48 percent three weeks earlier between July 30 and Aug. 1, based on the same pollster.

Further, the disapproval rating for the president sharply climbed from 41 percent to 49 percent over the corresponding period.

A noteworthy point is that the percentage of disapproval for Moon exceeded approval in the Seoul metropolitan area for the first time since May 2017.

While Moon’s approval ratings were 46 percent in Seoul and 45 percent in Gyeonggi Province-Incheon, his disapproval ratings reached 49 percent and 50 percent in the areas, respectively.

In Busan-Ulsan-South Gyeongsang Province, the portion of optimists stayed at only 38 percent, far behind pessimists for disapproval of 53 percent. The area, formerly the home turf of rightists, gave dominant support for leftists during the 2017 presidential and 2018 local elections.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

By generation, the disapproval surpassed approval among respondents in their 20s, 50s and 60s or over. In contrast, Moon’s approval rating was the highest among those in their 30s at 63 percent.

Concerning Moon’s personnel policy, only 24 percent of the surveyed 1,000 people responded that they support it, while 53 percent said he “is not doing well” in the appointment of senior public officials.

There is a high possibility that the support rate for Moon will further go down from the current 45 percent, as the poll is not assumed to have fully reflected the public fury. The allegations concerning the justice minister nominee’s daughter came to the fore in the middle of last week.

While many online commenters have demanded Cho’s voluntary withdrawal from his nominee status, he has continued to express the will to push forward for the minister post. Cho also said that he would give details about the allegations at the coming confirmation hearing, adding that some news reports stray from the facts.

Cheong Wa Dae has maintained its silence over requests from college students and other large groups of people to scrap its nomination of Cho.

“It will not be easy for the president to secure his approval rating above 40 percent if he eventually pushes forward the appointment of nominee Cho,” said a political researcher in Seoul.

A poll initiated by news daily Joongang Ilbo showed that 6 in 10 Koreans opposed the appointment of Cho to the ministerial post after the confirmation hearing. In addition, nearly 7 in 10 in their 20s opposed it as of the weekend.

Apart from the daughter’s college entrance process, nominee Cho faces other allegations involving private equity funds and his son’s military duty, which is called the Cho Kuk scandal online.

By Kim Yon-se (

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