When President Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017 on the strength of citizens’ anger following the ouster of then President Park Geun-hye over an influence-peddling scandal, public expectations were sky-high.
People expected Moon to open a new era of transparent, democratic and communication-based presidential leadership, in contrast to his predecessor’s closed and isolated style.
At the time, Moon famously promised to talk as often as possible with the people and media, publicly discussing major issues to work out a solution together as a liberal and democratic leader.
Five years have passed, a truly turbulent and unexpectedly painful period due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With one day left in his tenure, it is time to ask whether Moon actually did what he promised.
The answer differs from person to person. What’s certain, though, is that Moon failed to meet the lofty expectations, largely because of his stubborn and one-sided attitude, not-so-open communication style and not-so-democratic policy decisions.
A glaring example is the dispute-laden white paper that purportedly summarizes the “achievements” of the Moon presidency.
“The media selectively choose topics and report about them, and they are often biased,” Moon said at a luncheon meeting Wednesday with the committee members in charge of the publication of the white paper. “Leaving behind a balanced record of state affairs is one of the government duties.”
On Friday, the white paper was made public. It was far from “balanced” as Moon claims. The white paper is nothing if not a collection of shameless self-praise and blatant denials of policy failures.
How come the government’s official white paper, which is supposed to offer insight into what went wrong and what must be done to prevent the same mistakes, has become the subject of public ridicule?
The 22-volume white paper, boasting of a stunning 11,944 pages, is unprecedented in its enormous wordiness. And yet it is difficult to agree with much of what it says regarding Moon’s key policies.
For instance, the paper claims that the Moon administration implemented a “balanced” policy to provide new housing and improve market regulations from the perspective of supply management. It went on to argue that Moon’s real estate policy resulted in higher supply than those of advanced nations such as the United States and Britain.
It does not mention that apartment prices in metropolitan Seoul doubled during Moon’s term. Nor does it reveal that Moon’s punishing taxes on real estate holders brought about outsize financial burdens at a time when citizens were already having difficulties because of the pandemic.
Moon’s much-criticized real estate policies, after all, ended up with higher apartment prices and heavier taxes, leading to the widespread public anger that eventually translated into more votes for Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party. Moon, in other words, shot himself on the foot with his not-so-balanced real estate policy that brought the conservative party back to power.
On Tuesday, Moon promulgated the two controversial bills on prosecution reform despite fierce opposition from the public, prosecutors and experts at the last Cabinet meeting of his five-year term. He even pushed back the Cabinet meeting originally scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to wait until the ruling Democratic Party of Korea railroaded the remaining prosecution reform bill aimed at stripping the prosecution of investigative powers.
The bills are criticized as Moon’s move to build up a shield for himself and his close political figures from prosecution’s investigations after his retirement. But the white paper claims the bills are designed to hand back a powerful agency to the people, even though not a single public hearing on the issue was held and Moon turned a blind eye to the undemocratic tricks the Democratic Party played.
Also conspicuously missing in the white paper are a slew of the failed policies such as the phaseout of nuclear energy and income-led growth initiatives.
It is regrettable that Moon mishandled many of crucial state affairs. It is sad that Moon has wrapped up his term with empty self-praise instead of humble soul-searching.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org