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[Editorial] Time for cooperation

Yoon must communicate with opposition to work together on policies for nation's future

By Korea Herald

Published : April 12, 2024 - 05:31

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The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea will be controlling a majority of the legislature for another four years, as it won 175 seats including proportional representation seats of its satellite party in the 300-member National Assembly. Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk‘s Rebuilding Korea Party, the Democratic Party’s closest friend, won 12 seats, raising the number of the two friendly forces to 187.

The ruling People Power Party and its satellite party managed to secure just over a third of the seats -- 108 -- narrowly avoiding its worst-case scenario where the opposition would be able to arbitrarily revise the Constitution. But it still suffered the most crushing defeat ever for a ruling party.

The Democratic Party did not achieve a landslide victory because it presented better policies and vision for the nation. It won big despite concerns over its leader Lee Jae-myung‘s near privatization of the party and his ongoing criminal trials because so many South Koreans were even more let down or angered by what they saw as the ruling bloc’s arrogance.

It is not that a majority of voters have a huge problem with the general direction of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s policies, such as strengthening the alliance with the US, improving relations with Japan, or labor, education and medical reforms. It’s the way Yoon has handled things that made them turn away.

In 2022, Yoon’s office and party members excessively loyal to him spent the first six months of his term trying to penalize then People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok who helped Yoon win the presidential race, because he was critical of Yoon and the people around him. Ahead of the party’s national convention in March 2023, the so-called “pro-Yoon” members of the party, including a group of first-term lawmakers, sought to discourage Na Kyung-won from running for party leadership and denounced another candidate Ahn Cheol-soo. Na and Ahn had also voiced criticism of Yoon. Lee, Na and Ahn won in their constituencies in Wednesday‘s general election. In January this year, Yoon’s office asked even his most trusted former prosecutor Han Dong-hoon to step down as the party’s interim leader.

Last month, Yoon further puzzled South Koreans by naming a former defense minister under investigation as ambassador to Australia. It wasn‘t that Lee Jong-seop did something gravely wrong, but it was a question of why send him, of all people, to Canberra despite the obvious political risk and wait till things got worse. Yoon’s former senior secretary for civil society also resigned six days after his shocking remarks to reporters, in which he told an MBC reporter to “listen up” and brought up a 1988 stabbing attack on a journalist by soldiers of the military intelligence command, were made known last month.

Yoon may be trying his best as the leader of a government, but the former prosecutor general appears to have no intention of being a good politician. But he needs to be one in order to realize his major reform plans for the country, which requires the parliament‘s support. He should have learned by now that elections can’t be won by ignoring opposition leaders or seeing them like the criminals he used to prosecute.

Yoon has repeatedly said that he was called upon by the people to rectify all things done wrong by the previous administration. That may be one of the reasons he won in 2022, albeit by a small margin, but that doesn‘t mean that should be his sole mission. Having lived through dictatorships and deep-running political divisions for decades, Koreans expect more from their president. They want someone who can bring the nation together in order to effectively lead it in the right direction. Politicians on both sides must not forget that Koreans have a sort of allergic reaction to those in power acting arrogantly or self-righteously, or in any way reminiscent of authoritarian governments of the past.

If Yoon hopes to achieve anything in his remaining three years in office, he should seek to communicate with the opposition before it‘s too late. The ruling party should think about why so many voters came to feel that it was worse than the opposition and seek cooperation with the powerful opposition to run the country together. The opposition, for its part, should be careful not to be overly conceited and deluded to believe they can do whatever they want, like Cho Kuk’s rhetoric of impeaching the president. The leadership on both sides must rise above their own interests, and focus on what is best for the nation and its future generation. The last thing people want to see is another round of political revenge.