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Moon’s once-infallible approval ratings hit by vaccine delay, prosecution reform

To stem the tide, president will accelerate launch of anti-corruption agency, carry out reshuffle

President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
As President Moon Jae-in enters his fifth year in office, his disapproval ratings have reached their highest level yet, a survey showed Monday. Moon has recently faced strong criticism over the nation’s vaccine rollout plans and also caused controversy over disciplinary action against the top prosecutor.

Moon is poised to drive up his ratings by speeding up the launch of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials and carrying out a ministerial-level reshuffle.

According to local research firm Realmeter’s survey of 2,008 people aged 18 or older nationwide from Monday to Thursday last week, President Moon’s approval rating was 36.7 percent, down 2.8 percentage points from the previous week. The disapproval rating rose 2 percentage points to 59.7 percent, the highest mark since taking office.

The approval rating of the main opposition People Power Party was 33.8 percent, an increase of 2.2 percentage points from the previous survey, and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea recorded 29.3 percent, down 1.3 percentage point.

Multiple factors appeared to have affected the decline, but the government’s delay in securing coronavirus vaccines seems to have played a large part amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

The government has decided to bring in 6 million vaccines from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen during the second quarter of next year, and 10 million vaccines from Pfizer in the third quarter, but failed to nail down the specific timing of the introduction, which will still be months after the US and Europe.

Moon’s continued conflict with the top prosecutor with the aim of reforming the prosecution also stoked controversy. After a Seoul court approved Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s suit to overturn his two-month suspension Thursday, Moon apologized to the public for the controversy the next day.

As the top prosecutor won the legal battle, political blows are inevitable for Moon, who endorsed Yoon’s suspension.

To make a political breakthrough, Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party are poised to accelerate the launch of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials and carry out a reshuffle of key personnel.

On Monday, the recommendation committee for candidates for the inaugural chief of the CIO convened to discuss the final two contenders. Recommended by the Korean Bar Association, the committee selected two candidates: Kim Jin-wook, former judge and current senior researcher at the Constitutional Court, and Lee Kun-ri, former prosecutor and current vice chairman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. Moon will nominate one of them as the final candidate for the head.

Despite strong opposition from the main opposition People Power Party, which objected to the voting process, the Democratic Party of Korea pushed ahead with the selection, aiming to launch the office next month at the latest after a parliamentary confirmation hearing. The ruling party is concerned that the failure of the prosecution reform may accelerate the lame-duck period for Moon, whose tenure finishes in May 2022.

In another way of tightening the grip on state affairs, Moon is expected to carry out a ministerial-level reshuffle including chief of staff to the president Noh Young-min as early as Tuesday. The heads of three to four ministries, including Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who offered to resign, are expected to be affected.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)



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