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[Editorial] No more one-way street

Yoon pledges to ‘communicate more’ after election defeat but he needs to work harder

By Korea Herald

Published : April 17, 2024 - 05:30

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President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday said he would work to improve his communication with the people and try to accept the public sentiment, making his first public comments after the crushing defeat of his conservative ruling party in the April 10 elections.

“All of us have to accept the public sentiment revealed in the general elections in a humble manner,” Yoon said in a televised speech during a Cabinet meeting. “I will communicate more in a humbler and more flexible attitude and try to listen to the people’s voices more closely.”

Yoon’s public remark came after the ruling People Power Party suffered a resounding defeat in the general elections last week, taking home just 108 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly.

Although Yoon expressed his will to change his style and try to better communicate with the people, he stuck with his trademark unilateral style during the speech, claiming that his broad policy initiatives remain in the right direction and he has “looked only to the people and taken the course for the national interest.”

“Even though I set the right direction for state affairs and did my best to put it into practice, I believe there were not enough changes that could be felt by the people,” Yoon said.

His underlying logic expressed in his speech is that he worked hard with the right policies but his efforts just “fell short of the people’s expectations.”

Yoon’s unwavering stance and conviction about his handling of state affairs deserves appreciation, but his continued refusal to admit what really happened and his unwillingness to factor in his own responsibility could make things even messier for the remainder of his five-year term.

First and foremost, Yoon has not given up on his one-way communication style, which has been criticized as “unilateral” and “self-righteous” by the opposition parties. Instead of a press conference, Yoon opted for a Cabinet meeting to deliver a speech to the nation, a method that leaves no room for questions and answers.

But it is hardly surprising since Yoon does not prefer interactions with the press or critics. After all, Yoon also stopped directly communicating with the press on Aug. 17, 2022 when he held a press conference to mark the first 100 days in office. Since then, media outlets have continued to raise concerns that disputes about Yoon’s one-way communication method could only weaken his key policy initiatives and reform measures.

But even one day before the election, Yoon delivered a similarly unilateral speech, claiming that the government’s policy on the medical school enrollment quota was set in the right direction, without acknowledging the disagreement among medical circles -- a logic that echoes what he said Tuesday.

Shortly after Yoon’s speech on Tuesday, critics lost no time pointing out that Yoon did not reveal any specific post-election assessment, much less a humble apology for the defeat. Nor did he mention the need to work with the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which has kept control of the National Assembly with 175 seats. Rather than naming the opposition party, Yoon just said that the government should “work closely with the National Assembly.”

With bipartisan cooperation deemed critical, Yoon is now under pressure to talk with the Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, but this seems uncertain, as Yoon has not held any official one-on-one meeting with Lee since taking office in May 2022.

The public sentiment that Yoon talked about Tuesday is not so friendly. According to a poll released Monday, Yoon’s approval rating tumbled to 32.6 percent, the lowest point since last October.

However reluctant he may be, Yoon has to face the worsening public sentiment and take action by actually listening to the people -- including critics and opposition parties.