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[Editorial] Yoon's press conference

No surprise in president's first press conference in 21 months

By Korea Herald

Published : May 10, 2024 - 10:29

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President Yoon Suk Yeol apologized Thursday for his wife’s “unwise behavior” regarding her alleged acceptance of a luxury bag in 2022 after his inauguration.

"I apologize for causing concern to the people with the unwise conduct of my wife," he said during a press conference marking the second anniversary of his presidency.

Yoon said he would refrain from commenting further, however, as his remarks could be misconstrued as trying to influence the prosecution's ongoing investigation of the case.

On the opposition’s calls for a special counsel probe into separate allegations that the first lady was involved in stock price manipulation between 2009 and 2011, Yoon said such investigations should be conducted only after those by the prosecution and other agencies are deemed insufficient.

Demanding another investigation when enough has been done is a "political offensive," he said.

Yoon noted that the prosecution had already investigated his wife’s stock price manipulation allegations during the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

“I cannot help but ask if (the opposition is) claiming that the investigation under the previous administration was preferential to me and my family or was insufficient,” he said.

As for the opposition-led special counsel bill to investigate suspicions that the presidential office interfered with an inquiry into a Marine’s death last year, Yoon said he would first wait for the results of the ongoing probes by the police and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials.

“I believe investigators and those involved in trials later will do their best to find out what happened. Distorting the truth to let something slide for someone responsible, and pinning the blame on someone off the chain or weak -- I think such things are not possible at all,” the president said.

“Should they leave any further suspicions, I myself will request for a special counsel investigation.”

The opposition recently passed the special counsel bill, which the main opposition Democratic Party has asked the president to accept, or not veto. The president’s comments on Thursday suggest he will veto it.

As for the ruling party’s former interim leader Han Dong-hoon, who had worked alongside Yoon when they were both prosecutors and is believed to have had disagreements with Yoon shortly after he took the helm of the party, the president said they have known each other for over 20 years, and they will meet again any time.

Yoon’s senior aide reportedly suggested to Han in January that he step down as the party’s interim leader after Han said there were “aspects” of the first lady’s alleged acceptance of the luxury bag that “the public would worry about.” Han confirmed the report the next day by saying that he declined the request to resign.

Yoon asked Han to have lunch with him after the April 10 general election, but Han reportedly declined, saying he was unwell.

Before the press conference, Yoon explained about the government's major policies for the remaining three years of his term in a televised address to the nation.

He said the government would create a new ministry to tackle the country's low birth rate, and its chief would double as the deputy prime minister for social affairs and draw up policies across the education, labor and welfare sectors.

The president requested for active cooperation of the opposition-controlled parliament in revising the government organization law to launch the new ministry.

Although most of what Yoon said Thursday was not unexpected, Yoon showed that he was more willing than before to directly communicate instead of burying his head in the sand regarding issues that he wants to avoid.

While it is also questionable what new solutions the envisioned ministry can come up with to encourage Koreans to have more babies, having a deputy prime minister for social affairs as its control tower could help coordinate different policies in education, labor and welfare.

Like Yoon said, the government needs close cooperation with the National Assembly in order to do a better job of improving the people's livelihoods and preparing for the nation's future. Koreans can only hope to see better communication and collaboration between the government and the parliament that he promised over the next three years.