12.10.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Is Moon Jae-in’s Rating Beginning to Drop?

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The current period of the domestic policy of the Republic of Korea is predetermined by two main vectors. First, Moon Jae-in’ rating has recently been slowly but steadily dropping, and the first mass rallies against him, organized by the conservative forces in a manner similar to a “folk festival for impeachment”, have begun.

The drop in the rating of the president is shown in the following table:

Period Agency President’s Rating: for // against Toburo Free Korea People’s Party Bareun Party of Justice
July 24 to 26 Realmeter 74.7% //18.7% 54.7% 15.1% 4.9% 4.8% 6.2%
August 28 to 30 Gallup Korea 73.4% //21.5% 52.2% 16,8% 6.2% 6.5% 6%
August 28 to September 1 Realmeter 73.1% //21.8% 51,3% 16,4% 6.4% 6.5% 6.2%
September 5 to 7 Gallup Korea 72% 20% 50% 12% 4% 7% 5%
September  4 to 8 Realmeter 69.1% //24.6% 49.7% 16,7% 5.7% 6.3% 5.7%
September  11 to 13 Realmeter 66.8% //26.8% 49.1% 18,6% 5.6% 5.1% 6.2%
September 11 to 15 Realmeter 67.1% //26.8% 49,3% 18,4% 5% 5% 5.8%
September 19 to 21 Gallup Korea 70% 47% 11% 5% 6% 6%
September 25 to 27 Realmeter 68.6% //25.2% 50,8% 16.6% 6.6% 5.4% 5.4%
September 25 to 29 Realmeter 67.7% //26% 49,7% 17,1% 6.6% 5.6% 6%

The reason for the decline in Moon’s popularity is understandable on the whole: he makes loud promises and excellent statements, but (as one of the slogans at the rally against him read) “is he really in the driver’s seat”?

This is most clearly visible in inter-Korean relations. At a press conference dedicated to his one hundred days in office, Moon Jae-in stated that the installation of a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic vehicle was the “red line” in the provocative actions of the North, but now, both an ICBM and a warhead have been put in place, yet the situation is not changing. As the result, the conservative forces believe that the president is too lenient towards the DPRK, and that he should take a more decisive position and begin acting in order to surmount the crisis.

In fact, Moon Jae-in’s foreign policy activity has only resulted in a half-success. The active lobbying of the American sanctions concept and fuel embargo was a failure. The visit to Russia resulted in only one signed agreement regarding special communications, and all the other documents signed were merely memoranda of intent. Moreover, most of the projects are the initiatives of the previous leaders, only given a somewhat new appearance: as one of the experts joked that every South Korean President starts talking with Moscow about building a gas pipeline. And that is given the fact that the Russian and South Korean relations are the easiest from the point of view of “non-extractable thorns in the flesh” like the THAAD issue or the “comfort women” problem.

The situation with the domestic policy is also not so simple: the leading conservative party does not take part in the parliament sessions either de jure (boycott of sessions) or de facto. Moreover, they have held their first mass rally involving 100 thousand participants (although this is according to their own statements).

There were very hard-hitting statements made: “We shall not allow Korea become a communist country”; “Moon is leading the country towards inevitable war”; “The country’s sovereignty and security are under doubt”. Some accusations resembled those used by the leftists against Park: why, while the DPRK is launching missiles and “all the people are horrified by what is going on”, is Moon enjoying his holiday and posting selfies? How dare he not feign concern for the fate of the country? They also recalled how Moon spoke against the American ballistic missile defence, and how his position has changed now.

And, although the opposition returned to work on September 11 after a week-long boycott of the work of the parliament, there is still no normal contact with the parties. There are only joint statements against the common enemy in the person of the DPRK, similar to those adopted on September 4 with condemnation of the sixth nuclear test of the DPRK. The document was adopted in the presence of the majority of the deputies from the ruling Toburo Democratic Party, the opposition People’s Party and Bareun Party, protesting against the actions of the North that are threatening the security of the Korean Peninsula, as well as demanding that the government take tough retaliatory measures.

Later, Moon met with the leaders of the same four political parties: based on the results of the meeting, for the first time in 2.5 years, a joint statement consisting of five paragraphs was adopted. First, the participants strongly condemned Pyongyang for carrying out its nuclear tests and called upon it to stop the provocative actions by following the path of denuclearization. The second paragraph stipulates an agreement on the comprehensive implementation of sanctions against the North and the strengthening the South Korea-USA union. The third paragraph envisages the prevention of a second war on the Korean Peninsula, while the fourth stresses the importance of united actions in the resolution of security issues under the conditions of increasing tension on the Korean Peninsula. The fifth notes the importance of the urgent need to form a permanent consultative council comprised of representatives of the government, as well as the ruling and opposition parties.

Although, from the author’s point of view, all this is mere talk, experts in the ROK have highly appraised the event, “The meeting could become the basis for successful political interaction, although in order to consolidate the success, the additional efforts of the interested parties are required”. This is a good sign of the problems.

Besides, the drop in the president’s rating is explained by the excessive policy of strengthening the welfare system and scandals related to the personnel policy: although Moon placed most of his supporters in the key positions, it was done without parliament approval.

The second trend is related to the fact that a large-scale purge began, which traditionally accompanies any change of power in the ROK. However, as Moon belongs to the opposition camp, the purge must be on an even larger scale. But since the country is formally a democracy, no one can be dismissed on a reason like “I do not like him”. One needs either to find a way to prove the other’s incompetency, or be aided by the fight against corruption; and corruption traditionally comes in waves either prior to or after presidential elections. A separate problem arises with the law enforcement agencies, where the conservative forces have very strong positions due to the “guarding” reflex inherent in law enforcement; but here, one can observe a very substantiated attack on both the intelligence agencies and other law enforcement agencies.

In short, each direction of the purge deserves a separate text.

There are no permutations and scandals in the other spheres, except for the fact that on August 27, 2017 Ahn Cheol-soo resumed his role as Leader of the People’s Party, having won 51.09% of the vote at its congress in the race for the post of chairman. Ahn promised to stick to the course of the opposition party by restricting the current government, recalled the plans for reforming the inner-party system, attracting new personnel and making amendments to the elections law. He also emphasized that the aim of his party is to win at the local elections next year.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (History), leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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