Calls for Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s resignation are growing.
More than 3,000 professors have urged President Moon Jae-in to replace him quickly.
About 80 members of a group of professors “hoping for social justice” held a press conference in front of Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday.
The group released a statement condemning the appointment of Cho as justice minister a week earlier. It also claims to have collected signatures from 3,396 former and current professors from 290 universities.
The figure exceeded the 2,234 professors and research scientists who signed a statement in 2016 urging then-President Park Geun-hye to step down over a political scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
“Moon tore down social justice and ethical morality by appointing Cho as justice minister despite the fact that his wife, facing numerous allegations, has been indicted for forging documents for her daughter’s admission in a graduate school,” the group of professors said in the statement.
“From the viewpoint of professors who have focused on academics for a long time, it doesn’t make any sense and derides students working on their master’s and doctor’s theses after years,” it said, referring to a pathology paper in which Cho’s daughter was named lead author as a high school intern.
Separately, more than 2,000 medical doctors also signed an online statement calling for the resignation of Cho and the expulsion of his daughter from the medical school she attends. They said the Cho scandal has humiliated, frustrated and dishonored the medical community.
Furthermore, some 800 attorneys have reportedly signed a statement released by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea on its website, urging the justice minister to step down. The group plans to hold a press conference this week.
About 1,000 students and alumni of Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University also held candlelight rallies at their respective campuses Thursday to demand Cho’s resignation.
They have proposed joint candlelight rallies of university students across the country and will likely continue protesting until Cho steps down.
“Reforms by a corrupt minister will not last long and will certainly fall apart,” leaders of the student rallies said in a joint statement Saturday, “University students cannot but be infuriated at the injustice and lies.”
Meanwhile, the Moon administration has been accused of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, as it has touted fairness and justice as its strengths.
An opinion poll conducted by Realmeter found that the positive rating of Moon’s performance has fallen to 43.9 percent, the lowest since his presidential inauguration, while the negative rating has hit 53 percent, an all-time high in his presidency.
The poll also found that 55.5 percent of the respondents said his appointment as justice minister was wrong. They far outstripped the proportion of those who said it was a right decision (35.3 percent).
According to a Gallup Korea poll, the positive rating of Moon among those in their 20s has fallen to 38 percent. Three years ago, young people participated in candlelight rallies over irregularities related to the university admission of Choi’s daughter. They formed a bedrock of support for Moon early in his presidency.
The poll results show that the president’s young supporters and moderates are turning their backs on his administration, amid the controversy over Cho’s appointment.
Cho should already have stepped down. Every day people have seen a string of reasons why he should not serve as justice minister.
If Moon keeps turning a deaf ear to the outcry, the backlash is likely to grow worse.
The ruling party and the Justice Ministry have unveiled reform policies, such as imposing fines proportionate to the wealth of perpetrators, but the indignation has not subsided.
To prevent a political catastrophe, Moon must take the public protests seriously.