Embattled Prosecutor-General Is Favorite as Next President

  • By Joo Hee-yeon

    November 12, 2020 13:14

    Embattled Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl is the favorite leftfield for the next presidential election, a poll suggests.

    In a survey on 1,022 people by Hangil Research and Consulting over the weekend, Yoon garnered a 24.7-percent support rating, followed by Minjoo Party leader Lee Nak-yon (22.2 percent) and Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung (18.4 percent). In fourth place was independent lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo (5.6 percent), while perpetual also-ran Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party came fifth (4.2 percent) followed by former Justice Party leader Sim Sang-jung (3.4 percent).

    Yoon's meteoric rise sent alarm bells ringing in both the ruling and opposition parties. A favorite of President Moon Jae-in's who later fell foul of the president by investigating his senior figures in his government, Yoon has managed to fall between all chairs.

    Earlier he was also sidelined by the Park Geun-hye administration after launching investigations into officials in power, but ended up playing a role in her eventual ouster.

    Not only is it unprecedented for an incumbent prosecutor general to become the most popular presidential candidate, but it raises serious questions about what the two major parties can do to win back public support.

    Yoon Seok-youl

    Yoon's new-found popularity is largely due to his resistance to pressure from the government to fall in line under Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. Yoon ordered prosecutors to investigate fly-by-night justice minister Cho Kuk as well as an election fraud case in the southeastern port city of Ulsan, which embarrassed the ruling party, which is pressuring him to step down.

    Minjoo Party insiders complain that Choo's repeated attacks on Yoon have backfired and made him look like a justice warrior refusing to kowtow to authority, while the People Power Party fears that his popularity could eat away at the vote for any candidate it may choose to put up from a lackluster pot.

    The MP accuses Yoon of being politically motivated in his investigations and many in the party are apparently shocked by his rising popularity. One prominent MP lawmaker said, "It will be very bad news for the party if Yoon ends up rallying public anger towards the ruling camp."

    The PPP on the surface welcomes any sign that the ruling party is in trouble and tried to refrain from extrapolating too much from Yoon's popularity. PPP floor leader Joo Ho-young said, "The rising popularity of Yoon, who is not involved in politics, should be seen as a protest against the despotism of the administration and the attitude of the justice minister. Public opinion polls constantly change and we do not want to read too much into them."

    But a prominent PPP lawmaker said, "This just shows that our party has yet to produce any promising candidate for president, and there is no guarantee that Yoon will join the PPP."

    Pundits point to precedents where maverick candidates attain meteoric popularity only to throw in the towel at the last minute. Former Prime Minister Koh Gun, who ranked first among the presidential hopefuls during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, saw his approval rating gradually decline and gave up his bid in 2007.

    Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan faced the same fate, and ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon returned to Korea as a leading presidential hopeful in early 2017, when then leader Park Geun-hye was under pressure to step down, but gave up his bid just 21 days later.

    Lee Jun-han at Incheon National University said, "Yoon's popularity right now is largely due to sentimental factors, so we need to see if he has what it takes to be a presidential candidate."

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