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[Newsmaker] Top prosecutor surges to No. 1 in presidential poll

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl emerged as the favorite to win the next presidential election, outpacing two seasoned politicians from the ruling party who had dominated similar surveys, a poll showed Wednesday.
The outspoken top prosecutor’s favorability rating stood at 24.7 percent in the survey conducted by pollster Hangil Research. It was the first time that Yoon, who was appointed by liberal President Moon Jae-in but is widely supported by conservatives after feuding with the incumbent administration, came out on top in a presidential poll.

Trailing him were Rep. Lee Nak-yon, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party, whose approval rating stood at 22.2 percent, and Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, who got 18.4 percent.

Yoon’s popularity has been on the rise on the back of the publicity he received from high-profile confrontations with former and sitting Justice Ministers Cho Kuk and Choo Mi-ae over multiple issues.

In a poll released by Realmeter on Nov. 2 Yoon ranked third, gaining support from 17.2 percent of respondents, up 6.7 percentage points from a month earlier. The two Democratic Party members Lee Nak-yon and Lee Jae-myung were tied for the lead in last week’s poll at 21.5 percent.

Yoon, 59, has since June this year appeared in poll results concerning prospective presidential candidates. His standing appeared to increase whenever he squared off against the incumbent administration.

Although the senior prosecutor has no political affiliation and has never publicly said he intended to pursue a political career, he is widely viewed as conservatives’ best shot at the next presidency.

Last month Yoon fanned speculation that he might be considering a bid.

Despite having flatly denied any interest in politics on earlier occasions, he said in a subtle change of tone that he would “think about how to serve Korean society and the Korean people” after completing his term, which ends in July next year.

Yoon was picked by President Moon as the chief prosecutor for his unrelenting determination when he led investigation teams in cases involving former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, who are currently serving prison terms.

President Moon hoped Yoon would cooperate with the justice minister to fulfill Moon’s vision for judicial reform, which included curbing prosecutors’ investigative powers.

But former Justice Minister Cho, the main architect of the reforms and a close aide to the president, resigned in October last year just 35 days after taking office amid a prosecution investigation into members of his family over corruption allegations.

Critics say Yoon and the prosecution may have had an ulterior motive for the probe: to put the brakes on the drastic overhaul of the prosecutors’ office. Yoon strongly denied this was the case.

A series of rows has followed between the prosecutor general and incumbent Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae over prosecutor reshuffles and cases involving ruling and opposition politicians.

During a parliamentary audit on Oct. 22, Yoon said outright that he was not the justice minister’s subordinate, after Choo decided to take over his investigative command authority in a high-profile financial scandal. He called the action taken by Choo “illegal and absurd.”

Despite the emergence of a “conservative” figure leading presidential polls, the main opposition People Power Party doesn’t appear ready to welcome Yoon with open arms.

Party Floor Leader Joo Ho-young said last week he that would not approve of Yoon beginning a political career.

“It is undesirable that an incumbent official who is in a position that requires him to strictly maintain political neutrality get embroiled in political issues,” Joo said.

By Park Han-na (