Yoon handed his Brutus a dagger and he's ready to wield it

Yoon handed his Brutus a dagger and he's ready to wield it

President Yoon doesn’t cling to approval ratings. He has repeatedly said so, and even his administration seems indifferent (or incapable) in trying to improve it. His ratings have been stagnating around 30% for the most part of his term in the office.

One way to look at his peculiar stance on approval ratings is that this is his own way of distinguishing himself from the politician politicians. The Moon administration was all about the ratings. Yoon will keep his head up, as he did during his prosecutor days, even if the tide is against him.

It also tells much about how ignorant he is about the way politics work. Once a politician, ratings are the only metric of your political capability. Perhaps more than that—let’s say it’s your HP.

Simply ignoring that won’t do anything to change that, and his next three years in office will be a living lesson for this.

For a starter, some of those who were seen as Yoon’s guys began to defy him. Kim Gi-hyeon was enthroned as the ruling party leader by Yoon loyalists, but when Yoon asked him to keep his position and declare that he will not seek another term in the Assembly, Kim just did the opposite.

Kim & Yoon, during much happier days

For career politicians, elections are everything. If they think putting a photo with you in campaign leaflets would help them in an election, they will listen and nod at you. Who would listen to an unpopular boss when he asks you to take a bitter pill?

After a few botched attempts to reboot the party’s campaign, Yoon finally assigned the job to his former lieutenant in the prosecutors’ office.

What Yoon still didn’t get (and soon to be learned day by day) was that once Han Dong-hoon is brought to the arena of politics, there’s no going back to the good ol’days when Prosecutor Han consummated the cases Yoon gave him.

And President Yoon is stinkingly unpopular.

A very weird feud in which Yoon’s chief of staff asked Han to step down as the party’s emergency committee chair—a Korean politics lingo for a fixer—barely a month after he took the job is telling.

My initial impression was that it could be Yoon’s tactical maneuver to boost Han’s leadership as it will give more edge to his campaign. Yoon is a very unpopular president and Han used to be his top lieutenant. Han needs something like this to draw a clear line between Yoon and him and position himself as alternative leadership—which would help getting back lost voters. (Some observers spoke of “match fixing.”)

Alas, even a crude fixed match show was too delicate for them. According to a private conversation of people close to Han, it was mainly about Han’s words about the First Lady that got on Yoon’s nerves.

The other thing that got Yoon loyalists including his chief of staff is probably the party’s nomination for candidateship. The party system in Korea has little grassroot foundation and is very weak, so parties, regardless of left and right, often bypass primaries and defer to leaders’ direct nominations.

Much of the so-called “reform” of the ruling party nomination voiced by Yoon loyalists is about Yoon’s inner circle replacing the old timers in “easy” constituencies like Gangnam and the Youngnam region.

No way Han, with his authority as the interim leader intact, would allow this to happen. We’re already hearing that some of the Yoon inner circle being asked to relinquish their tickets to the easiest constituencies.

We don’t know who’s going to win this election, but it is certain who’s going to lose: Yoon will turn into an outright lame duck. His team—full of careerists without any pivotal figure or ideology—will be scattered in search of next career moves when the administration’s fate is sealed with the election.

Yoon might have thought this time, with his former top lieutenant in the party leadership, the things could be, at last, as same as when he was the chief prosecutor—a chain of command, 100% respected. The primordial origin of authority of a political leader in a democracy is, however, his or her knack of getting support from the masses.

Thus it was evident that whoever the dagger of authority was given, it will be Yoon’s back the dagger would be thrusted. In an interesting sense of tragedy, Yoon chose his most trusted lieutenant to do just that.

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Jamie Larson