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Controversies cut short Yoon administration ‘honeymoon’

Issues surrounding the first lady, ruling party scandals eat away at ratings

President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)

The first few months of a new president’s term can often be referred to as the “honeymoon” period, in which the new leader usually enjoys the benefit of high public support.

But that no longer seems to apply to President Yoon Suk-yeol, as his constant blunders, controversies surrounding his spouse, personnel failures and issues within the ruling party continue to weaken his public support base.

Yoon’s approval rating plunged again, a survey showed Monday, with negative evaluations outpacing positive assessments by 26.3 percentage points.

A two-day poll of 1,002 adult men and women aged 18 or older nationwide was conducted Friday and Saturday by the Korea Society Opinion Institute at the request of TBS. The findings showed 34.5 of those polled gave Yoon’s performance a positive evaluation, while 60.8 percent gave it a negative evaluation. Compared to last week’s survey, positive assessments fell 8.3 percentage points and negative assessments rose 8.9 percentage points.

The KSOI said, “Considering that the positive evaluation of President Yoon’s state affairs was 20.2 percentage points ahead of the negative evaluation in the survey just before the local elections, this is a remarkable change.”

Regarding the controversy over Yoon’s personnel appointments, 60.3 percent of the respondents said Yoon’s administration failed to properly appoint high-ranking officials.

A large number of former prosecutors were selected for ministerial posts and positions within the administration. Many of them had also been or became embroiled in personal scandals and allegations.

Most recently, Song Ok-rial, a candidate for the Fair Trade Commission, resigned voluntarily Sunday, becoming the fourth person eliminated from the Yoon Suk-yeol administration due to a personal scandal. Song said he regrets remarks that he made of sexual harassment while drunk in the past.

Prior to Song, ministerial candidates Jung Ho-young, who was put forward for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Kim In-chul, for the Ministry of Education, and Kim Seung-hee, also for the Health Ministry, had already voluntarily removed themselves from consideration due to various allegations against them.

On Sunday, Yoon’s administration appointed Financial Services Commission Chairman Kim Joo-hyun, who became the fourth person appointed without a hearing, following Education Minister Park Soon-ae, National Tax Service Commissioner Kim Chang-ki and Joint Chiefs of Staff chief Kim Seung-kyum.

The public was also not impressed by Yoon’s constant blunders at press briefings. The same survey showed that 47.3 percent of respondents -- the largest portion -- said “he was not ready when he answered” reporters’ questions.

Yoon’s ad-libbed, unfiltered remarks at press briefings every morning have stoked controversy.

Park Soo-hyun, a former senior presidential secretary for public communication, cited Yoon’s words as a reason for the falling approval rating in a radio interview Monday.

He said, ”The language of the candidate may be like that, but the language of the president should be different.”

In addition, several other issues, such as continuing controversy over first lady Kim Keon-hee, Yoon’s acquaintance involved in public affairs and ongoing strife within the ruling People Power Party, as well as a lack of interest in people’s livelihoods, are all undermining Yoon’s approval rating.

Political commentator Park Chang-hwan said in the early days of the administration that the public assesses a president in terms of his words, actions and posture, because it is too short to evaluate him based on policies. Yoon has failed to win the hearts of the public, according to Park.

“While Yoon does not come up with brilliant measures to bring down inflation or deter North Korean provocations, controversies continue around him, such as those concerning the first lady, personnel affairs and the ruling party conflict,” Park said.

“Although Yoon is at the center of all this, he doesn’t seem to take the problem seriously,” he said. “Changes in the president’s perception and attitude are needed to recover his support from the public.”

By Shin Ji-hye (