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[Editorial] Tarnished start

President Yoon’s first six months in office marred by a slew of missteps, Itaewon disaster

President Yoon Suk-yeol marked his first six months in office Thursday. Unfortunately, the scorecard for his starting period of a five-year term, usually filled with hopes for change and reform, is not so pretty.

To be fair, Yoon confronted a host of thorny challenges on many fronts. The continued missile provocations of North Korea, the deepening economic woes including credit crunch and high inflation, and the Itaewon tragedy took place under his stewardship, to name just three negative factors.

But that’s not all. Yoon suffered a host of setbacks, some of which were created by his own missteps and gaffes, while his aides and staff members did little to help turn things around.

Of course, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly, did not work cooperatively with the Yoon administration’s key policy initiatives. And some observers praised Yoon’s decision to strengthen the Korea-US alliance, seek ways to improve long-frosty relations with Japan, hold regular morning briefings with the press and deal with some misguided polices of the previous administration.

The trouble is that Yoon’s achievements are -- if anything -- meager at this point, especially given the high public expectations for his preelection resolve to carry out necessary reforms based on his pursuit of freedom, fairness and common sense.

Yoon’s emphasis of the three keywords sounds fairly empty because many of his own actions are far detached from the idealistic concepts he officially espoused when he started his term. He also often stressed the importance of “scientific” method to resolve issues, but it’s difficult to say that his actions followed what he preached.

No wonder, then, that his approval ratings are hovering at around 30 percent, a fairly low level, even considering his political inexperience before taking office as the president of the nation in May.

Yoon, who had served as prosecutor general, was roundly criticized for his lopsided personnel choices that resulted in ex-prosecutors holding key government posts. Largely ignoring critical remarks, he continued to justify his personnel choices, which disappointed many citizens and led to a drop in his approval ratings.

Yoon also failed to watch his overly careless words and control his strange behavior, touching off a wave of fiery reactions from the media and opposition party members.

In August, when the nation was hit by a record downpour, he rode back to his house even though he witnessed some apartment complexes submerged by flash flooding -- a reflection of his problematic attitude toward public security.

In addition, during his trip to New York in September, Yoon was caught in a hot mic incident in which he used foul language right after talking with US President Joe Biden. With the controversy about his vulgar words exploding, the presidential office later explained that it was referring to lawmakers in South Korea, not the US Congress.

At this point, people began to notice that Yoon has a rough attitude toward lawmakers of his own country and does not stop to think before blurting out self-damaging words in public.

Yoon is also under fire for his unilateral rage against the police for its allegedly irresponsible responses to the tragic Itaewon disaster that took place on Oct. 29. A special investigation unit of the police is now conducting a probe to identify what went wrong, but critics point out that Yoon should hold those in top leadership positions accountable first for the deadly crowd crush -- not rank-and-file police officers and first responders.

For instance, Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min, who was embroiled in a dispute for his remark over the Itaewon disaster, came under pressure to resign voluntarily for taking responsibility for the tragedy as a chief of the ministry in charge of public safety. But Yoon apparently has no intention to sack Lee, who publicly said he “plans to work harder” when asked by a lawmaker on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Yoon defended Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs, two days after she was caught exchanging a memo in which she wrote “That's hilarious” during a parliamentary audit session that centered on the Itaewon tragedy. Yoon also banned MBC -- the TV station that released his hot mic video -- from joining the press pool for his next overseas trip for its alleged “biased” reporting. All these hint at Yoon’s skewed notion of press freedom, fairness and common sense.

It is hoped that Yoon will rethink his unilateral decisions and refocus on addressing urgent national issues during the remainder of his term if he wants to prevent his presidency from going down in history as a tragicomedy that is neither cathartic nor hilarious.



By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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