Behind the Moon-Yoon conflict: could Moon evade the curse of President?

Behind the Moon-Yoon conflict: could Moon evade the curse of President?

This is the second issue of my newsletter. The format is quite different this time—this time the whole newsletter is about a single topic.

My current goal is to provide a news roundup two times a week and a deep-dive write-up (like the below) a week. An ambitious plan still but I’ll do my best 😉

One question: what do you prefer, news roundup or deep-dive? You can always let me know what you think by replying to subin@koreakontext.com

—Subin


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It at first seemed a small feud over whom to pardon. Or whether to move the presidential office.

As the strife between the outgoing President and the incoming one drags on, however, it’s becoming evident what all this is about:

To protect Moon’s legacy.

Or, if you don’t mind me being more vulgar, to stay away from jail.

I’m not being sarcastic at all. The insiders know this all too well:

I plead to those […] who love President Moon Jae-in. The nation’s future, the success of the Moon administration, and the simple life of Moon after retirement depend on your votes.

Moon’s former chief of staff Lim Jong-seok, in his Facebook post, a few days before the Presidential election (Italic by this editor)

Biggest trigger: Board of Audit committee

The epicenter of the conflict revolves around the key inspection agencies, especially the Board of Audit and Inspection this time:

  • Out of its seven audit committee members, there are two vacancies waiting to be appointed by the President.
  • Moon wants to appoint at least one before his term ends. Which Yoon opposes.
    • The committee, the final decision maker of the BAI, has already has three members appointed by Moon. If Moon gets to appoint one more, Moon’s guys have the upper hand (four out of seven) when the BAI decide what to inspect.
    • The BAI has an old habit of digging into previous administration’s projects as soon as a new administration starts off.
    • Yoon says that there has been no cases in which an outgoing President appointed audit committee members after the next President gets elected.

At the same time, the ruling Minjoo Party avowed to finish its initiative of complete deprivation of investigation authority of the prosecutors.

The end of the Moon presidency is still 50 more days away. Minjoo still retains the absolute majority. They can do whatever they want.

What would Moon fear for his simple life after retirement?

Moon has a public image of a decent, honest man and I believe he really is as a private individual. But as a political leader, with whom the buck stops, he too has several sore spots.

  • First and foremost is the indictment of meddling in the 2018 Ulsan mayor election. This is the most inflammable case in my opinion.
  • The Wolsong-1 nuclear plant shutdown case could be another trigger.
    • Also to note is that this case was a watershed moment for two opposition presidential candidates, Yoon and Choi Jae-hyung, then chairman of the BAI.
  • Plus, there are several more cases of financial frauds including Optimus hedge fund but the link to Moon appears to be far weaker than the above cases. Rather, it’s more about the administration’s insiders.

It is improbable Moon directly gave his men direct orders to break the law but it appears Moon didn’t do something to prevent it or even let them get away. This is very odd considering that Moon served as both a chief of staff of the President’s Office and a top presidential aide to legal/inspectional affairs.

In similar cases with former Presidents involved, the court tends to set a wider range of responsibilities of the President. Moon won’t be an exception.


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What can Yoon do about it?

Basically nothing until his inauguration.

After that, however, he’s the king. He can do whatever he wants. Even undoing some of what Moon did (and will do) to protect his simple life.

One interesting possibility is appointing Han Dong-hoon to the leadership of the prosecutors.

Already Yoon’s closest ally Kwon Sung-dong alluded to the possibility yesterday.

What is wrong with Korean Presidency?

Becoming the President of the Republic of Korea has proven, with no exception, a poisoned chalice for the person themself. Two ex-Presidents went to jail under the Moon administration, and one ex-President killed himself after being investigated for corruption.

It has nothing to do with who the President is. The problem is that there is so little in the system to check and balance the authority of the President of the Republic of Korea that the President becomes a victim of their own success.

For Moon, it is still the case. While Moon himself may be a decent man, the enormous authority and the lack of a proper check-and-balance system incubate corruption.

Time to put an end to bloody vengeance after every Presidential election, some say. Unfortunately, they miss (or turn a blind eye to) the origin of bloodshed and try to rub the surface clean.

Does this make Moon innocent? We need to remember that Moon employed whatever in his arsenal, from the BAI to the prosecutors, to revenge Roh Moo-hyun’s death on Lee Myung-bak. Only when the prosecutors began to target the Moon administration’s insiders that the administration hastened the prosecution reform.

So my answer to the headline’s question is: nope, Moon had already drunk from the poisoned chalice.

Another interesting point for the next five years would be how Yoon would attempt to break the curse and fail. I am of opinion that the curse is unbreakable unless there is a constitutional change.


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