What Yoon transition team and WrestleMania have in common

What Yoon transition team and WrestleMania have in common

Hi all,

This is the fourth issue of Korea Kontext. I wanted to write an analysis on Moon’s exceptional approval rate last week but I had one hell of a hectic week as spring comes:

(my body is still aching… no joke)

One great piece of news for me as the sole editor/publisher of this newsletter was Josh Stanton’s kindest testimonial for the newsletter.

Thanks a lot, Josh!

Again, I am open to any kind of feedback. Testimonials good but requests or questions better! Just reply to this message or send me a note via subin@koreakontext.com!

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Yoon nominates Han Duck-soo as the next Prime Minister

(Image: 제20대대통령직인수위원회)

Picking Han has been expected so no surprises here. In fact, the upcoming Yoon administration can’t afford to risk any surprises this time, because:

  • This is going to be Yoon’s first nominee who will have to go through confirmation hearings at the National Assembly, where the soon-to-be opposition Minjoo retains an absolute majority.
  • If Yoon’s first-ever pick falls in the Assembly hearings, it will be a serious blow to the new administration’s kickstart.

Among the many reasons why Han’s the safest bet, that he served top governmental posts under Presidents Kim Dae-jung (as the Minister for Trade통상교섭본부장 and the senior presidential advisor for economy) and Roh Moo-hyun (as the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister) is the most significant. Because, even in the South, pedigree matters.

Would the Minjoo, however, let Roh Moo-hyun’s PM pass the hearings so easily? I don’t think it’s likely.

  • What contributed to Han’s longevity in the top governmental stratum (Han even served as the Ambassador to the US under Pres Lee Myung-bak) is that he has little political leaning. He was a model technocrat who knew how not to speak in his own voice.
  • So, even though Han served the top posts in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, there are not many reasons for the Minjoo not to oppose his confirmation.

Overall, I don’t think he’s a bad choice. He ticks all the boxes for a good PM: economy, diplomacy (especially with the US), trade. He doesn’t seem to be in possession of a political vision but this is not something a PM is expected to have in South Korean politics.

But… I can’t help but think that it resembles a scene from the recent WrestleMania event.

I’m not a big fan of the WWE (I’m still familiar with the former name WWF) but I remember seeing Stone Cold Austin and Vince McMahon in my teenager days. Yet, after two decades I still see these guys.

The same goes for the new administration. We don’t know who’s going to be nominated as new ministers yet but the listing of the transition committee pretty much looks like Stone Cold and Vince drinking beer together (just before one gives a stunner to another). Many of them are from Lee Myung-bak era as I commented in the previous newsletter.

Politicians regroup for the June local election

Song Young-gil (Image: 더불어민주당)

Former Minjoo leader Song Young-gil moved his residence of record to Seoul from his constituency Incheon.

  • The election law requires one to have their residence of record in the district of the local government which they seek to run for for more than 60 days.
  • For the upcoming local election of June 1st, those who want to run had to move their address by April 1st.

The race for the next Seoul mayor is of course going to be the most significant one in the election. The People Power Party has a strong candidate who is the incumbent Oh Se-hoon but the Minjoo’s roster seems to lack a player who matches Oh.

I, for one, think whoever Minjoo gets to run for wouldn’t stand much chance against Oh, because:

  • Seoul had been in favor of Minjoo for years. Even when Park beat Moon in 2012, more than half of Seoul voted for Moon
  • But the Moon administration managed to reverse the situation. In the last election, 50.6% of Seoul voted for Yoon while Lee got 45.7%.
  • The main reason is, of course, its spectacular failure in the housing market.

What’s going to be much more interesting would be the process of the Minjoo nominating its candidate—how the inner competition/infighting turns out.

  • Song is now considered to be on Lee Jae-myung’s side. Rumor says that Lee has his eyes on Song as the party candidate.
  • Some Minjoo heavyweights who oppose Lee instead push for Lee Nak-yon, who competed against Lee Jae-myung during the primary for the last election, and there is a list of other candidates endorsed by those who don’t support Lee Jae-myung.

(By the way, I’m skeptical that Lee Jae-myung has a strong faction of his own in the party but that’s for another day.)

Housing market will decide the winner of the election (again)

(Image: Francisco Anzola)

The Greater Seoul area, now home to more than half of the whole nation, will be the hottest battleground for the June election and no one doubt that the housing market will be the single biggest issue in the area for the election. It may also well be the case for the last presidential election.

But the media tend to focus only on the prices and (especially) the taxes, which show only a fraction of the picture. Much more important is the landlord-tenant regulation and this alone pushes the degree of the equation higher.

I’ll have to devote an entire post to the housing market issue next time. For now, just let me just add some interesting facts from the 2020 Korea Housing Survey:

  • More than half of the greater Seoul area residents don’t own the house they live in.
  • The luxurious Gangnam district in fact has one of the lowest percentages of those who live in the house they own.
    • (More tax on Gangnam houses? Tax shift!)

Minjoo’s 2020 revision of the Housing Lease Protection Act proved to be shooting themselves in the foot. Jeonse rent skyrocketed while tenants and landlords were confused by ill-defined clauses in the revised law.

Will the Minjoo Party repent of what they had done? Of course not. The revised law reflects how the party lawmakers propose to solve the issue. The narrow defeat in the presidential election doesn’t necessitate a cognitive reboot.

The Yoon transition team reportedly seeks to roll back the revision but as I said many times before, Minjoo still holds the helm of the Assembly. The issue might remain as mere rhetoric on Yoon and PPP’s side even on the day of the election in June as there’s little they can do.

One thing to ponder is the law’s effect on the next general election in 2024. The revised law allows a two-year extension of jeonse contract and this August will see the second anniversary of the effectuation.

The Ministry of Justice already voiced concern about another jeonse shock around that time. One good thing for Minjoo is that there will be no election for about two years from the June election so there will be plenty of time to recalibrate.

But would they?

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