|President Moon Jae-in, right, and his chief of staff Noh Young-min|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in's incomprehensible response to the scandal surrounding Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family raises serious questions about whether he is getting a detailed and accurate assessment of the situation and timely advice from his aides.
An increasing number of Koreans are starting to place the blame on Moon for the "severe division" in Korean society as seen by the raging protests against his management of state affairs, particularly the appointment of his close aide Cho as justice minister last month despite the mounting allegations of wrongdoings by the former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.
But all this cannot be blamed on the President alone. At uncertain times like this, he really needs to surround himself with aides and officials to advise him on what is truly the best for the country, even though it may not be something he wants to hear. This is particularly urgent when considering the growing fears that he is repeating the mistakes of his failed predecessor, former President Park Geun-hye, who drove the country into extreme division.
Some conservative media reports have started to liken him to the impeached former president, who was often criticized for her lack of communication skills and failure to respond to public opinion. A conservative daily published Monday actually ran an op-ed titled "At this rate, Moon is feared to become the male Park." More Koreans are starting to agree with such sentiment, when considering that he is showing some of Park's traits that damaged public trust in her leadership and administration. A survey published Tuesday showed that Moon's job approval rating had dipped to the 30 percent range, reflecting the growing disappointment in the way the President has been handling state affairs.
Even some of the people who have supported the President have begun to doubt whether he really values active communication with the people ― a key virtue of a leader Moon has frequently underlined since his election campaign. Many were let down by the obstinate manner in which Moon pushed through with the appointment despite ferocious protests from the opposition and incessant calls for him to withdraw the nomination. A recent article published in the Kyunghyang Shinmun showed that only 48 percent approve of Moon's communication skills. It should be noted that more than 80 percent thought Moon was a good communicator in a survey by the same newspaper in September 2017. This shows a glaring decline in the public's confidence in Moon to listen to their voices, which will inevitably impact the public's trust in their leader.
Moon's lack of attention to public opinion can be seen in his remarks during a meeting with his senior aides Monday, where he failed to clearly explain what he plans to do to settle the division in Korean society, marked by the rallies in different parts of Seoul for and against his government and his push for judicial reform.
Instead of responding to some of the core public concerns regarding Cho, Moon repeated his push for judicial reform and told the Ministry of Justice and the prosecution as well as the National Assembly to do their part. His description of the rallies as an "act of democracy" was not wrong, but sounded unconvincing and ill-timed at this point because the people do not want to know his views on democratic expression, but what he will do with Cho. There was also no message for national unity, which is something Korean society desperately needs right now.
One of the most pressing questions on the people's minds has been whether Moon will dismiss Cho as demanded by the opposition and a growing number of Koreans who believe that the scandal-ridden minister is not fit to spearhead judicial reform. A presidential aide said Monday that it was not right to speak about such matters while the prosecution's "stern" investigation into Cho and his family was still ongoing.