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[Editorial] Leadership in peril

Yoon should tackle a leadership crisis over text message scandal, personnel missteps

President Yoon Suk-yeol is now confronting a serious leadership crisis, a sorry development that he has created himself with a series of misguided or unilateral choices. The question is whether he will continue to ignore the warning signs from the opinion polls -- something he famously disregarded as “meaningless.”

A Gallup Korea poll of 1,000 voters nationwide showed Friday that Yoon’s approval rating fell to 28 percent, hitting a fresh low below 30 percent for the first time. In the same survey, 62 percent of those polled gave a negative view about his state affairs, citing disputes over personnel appointments, the country’s deepening economic concerns, a state-controlled police bureau and the latest scandal at the ruling People Power Party.

Yoon’s low approval rating, in about 80 days after he took office in May, cannot be brushed off as meaningless any longer. He has to do something about the latest warning signs because such a poor score suggests that not only the broader public but also his core supporters are being disappointed.

The deepening public disappointment caused by Yoon’s leadership crisis is feared to undercut his ability to tackle a slew of challenges in state affairs and implement bold reforms he had promised.

As the Gallup Korea poll revealed, those who gave poor marks to Yoon’s performance appear to be dissatisfied with his personnel decisions for key state posts that have been accused of being lopsided toward his friends and close acquaintances -- many of whom came from the prosecution, where Yoon worked as a prosecutor general.

The so-called “shot-at-insiders” text message scandal is also dealing a blow to Yoon’s public image and putting the ruling party in disarray. On Sunday, the People Party Party’s acting chair and floor leader Kweon Seong-dong said he has tendered his resignation as acting chief, hours after Rep. Cho Su-jin stepped down as a member of the Supreme Council, calling on the party and the presidential office to make a “complete overhaul.” The move came two days after Rep. Bae Hyun-jin announced her intention to resign. The departure of the two lawmakers was seen as a protest against the leadership of Kweon as well as the text message Yoon had sent to Kweon.

In the text message, which was caught on camera by a reporter on Tuesday in the National Assembly, Yoon described suspended party chief Lee Jun-seok as a person who habitually “shot at insiders” in the ruling party.

Early this month, Lee’s party membership was suspended for six months over the allegation that he tried to destroy evidence linked to a sexual bribery case. Yoon declined to comment on the issue, saying it was “not appropriate” for the president to discuss the matter.

It turned out that Yoon did mention Lee’s issue in the personal text message with Kweon through an expression that was far from appropriate as president.

Another hot-button issue that dragged down Yoon’s rating is the Yoon administration’s move to set up a police oversight bureau under the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. The plan sparked collective action by police officers, who expressed worries that such oversight bureau could damage their political neutrality.

But the Interior Ministry argued it is necessary as the police are scheduled to take over more investigative roles from the prosecution, and Yoon criticized police officers’ move as a “serious breach of national discipline.”

The poll numbers, however, suggest that the public is against the dispute-laden police bureau plan. Yet the establishment of the police bureau was endorsed during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

Disappointingly, Yoon has been silent about the mounting criticism over the embarrassing developments. Instead of seeing the current leadership crisis as being just as meaningless as the continued decline in approval ratings, Yoon should see it as a serious problem and make efforts to restore public trust.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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