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Yoon sorry for shortcomings but insists policies were right

Yoon's office says president 'open' to meet DP leader, but time needed for new Assembly

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : April 16, 2024 - 15:03

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) enters a Cabinet meeting he presided over in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) enters a Cabinet meeting he presided over in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol said he and his administration will humbly accept the result of last week's general election, which renewed the main opposition's firm grip over the National Assembly for the next four years, stressing that he sees it as a reflection of public sentiment.

"I will take heed of the public sentiment and communicate more with people with humility and flexibility," Yoon said in a Cabinet meeting held in his office in Seoul, with his opening remarks televised nationwide Tuesday.

Yoon also said he "felt sorry" for his failure to pay attention to public sentiment and cater to the people's demands as he wrapped up the Cabinet meeting behind closed doors, a high-ranking source from the presidential office said on condition of anonymity.

Yoon, however, insisted that he "set the right direction" in his domestic policy drive in the televised speech. Despite his policy intentions to improve people's livelihoods, Yoon admitted his government fell short of a national economic recovery felt by all in South Korea.

The conservative president brought up a string of his policies aimed at alleviating people's borrowing costs, easing housing supply regulations, banning short selling, ensuring tax relief for stockholders, reviving the domestic nuclear energy industry and introducing "Neulbom" after-school classes for elementary school students.

He added he would stick to major reform drives on labor, education, public pensions and the medical sector. His administration has pushed ahead with its medical school admission quota hike, effective for classes beginning in 2025, sparking fierce resistance from the medical community. Doctors have been fervently protesting the plan, demanding Yoon reconsider. The president has remained adamant, though saying there is room for dialogue.

Yoon urged the government to refine existing domestic policies to enhance their effectiveness in addressing the people's livelihoods. In the meantime, he cautioned against populist pledges such as universal cash allowances, which he likened to "druglike" measures, in an apparent reference to the liberal main opposition party's proposal to dole out at least 250,000 won ($179.2) to all Korean citizens suffering under inflation.

A source from Yoon's office, however, later said that the president was "open to meeting" leaders of opposition parties, in line with Yoon's closed-door remarks Tuesday that he "has nothing he can't do for the sake of the people." But the source added a "minimal amount of time" is needed to form the new Assembly and have the ruling party complete the leadership shakeup. Yoon has not met the main opposition leader during his first two years of presidency.

At Tuesday's meeting, however, Yoon did not address controversies that left the ruling bloc vulnerable to opposition attacks throughout the election campaigning period.

Among them is the botched nomination of former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup as the envoy to Australia, although Lee was suspected of having been involved in alleged state interference in a probe into Marine Cpl. Chae Su-geun's death last summer.

In the latest general election, the ruling People Power Party won 108 seats out of 300 in the National Assembly, leaving Yoon's ruling bloc beleaguered by political opponents.

Most of the remaining seats went to parties led by political figures potentially with an ax to grind with Yoon: 175 to the Democratic Party of Korea led by his 2022 presidential election rival Rep. Lee Jae-myung; 12 to the Rebuilding Korea Party chaired by liberal political foe Cho Kuk; and three to the New Reform Party founded by Lee Jun-seok, the former People Power Party leader ousted from his party after infighting with the pro-Yoon faction.

It was a third consecutive victory for the center-left political parties in legislative elections. The main opposition Democratic Party retained the power to single-handedly pass a bill through a plenary session of the National Assembly. If opposition parties join forces to form a bloc, they could fast-track any bill, skirting the legislative process and allowing the bill to be tabled directly to the plenary meeting of the parliament.

Yoon said in Tuesday's Cabinet meeting that his administration will "cooperate closely with the National Assembly" while performing its tasks, without elaborating that he would seek cooperation from opposition parties.

Attending the Cabinet meeting were Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Yoon's aides, such as Chief of Staff Lee Kwan-sup, Director of National Policy Sung Tae-yoon and five senior presidential secretaries handling domestic affairs, all of whom Thursday expressed their intention to Yoon to resign following the election defeat.

Yoon's office has yet to nominate their successors as of press time.