On March 10, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Korea made a historic decision, upholding the impeachment of the nation’s president, Park Geun-hye.
After the impeachment, South Korea held a snap election, and Moon Jae-in became the new leader. When taking office, Moon pledged that he would treat all Korean citizens equally. South Koreans supported Moon for the following reasons: He would tackle the chronic corruption among bigwigs and fat cats; he would value public opinion, trying to communicate with citizens; and he would revive the economy, properly handling economic inequality. But now, many Koreans are turning their backs on him.
On the official website of the Blue House, the presidential office in Seoul, more than a million people signed a petition that calls for the impeachment of Moon Jae-in. The petition claims that the president has to be ousted because of his administration’s botched response to the outbreak of Covid-19.
While some countries blocked the entry of all Chinese people, South Korea belatedly imposed an entry ban only on foreigners arriving from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. The belated response, the petition says, is to blame for the spike in Covid-19 across the country.
The petition also slams Moon for sending 3 million face masks to China, while Koreans can hardly buy masks because of soaring prices and lack of stocks.
Moon’s response to the surge of Covid-19, however, is not the only thing that citizens have against the president.
Many Koreans are deeply disappointed by the government’s real-estate policies. Moon had vowed to tighten regulations on housing prices. But many citizens complain about a surge in housing prices, particularly in Seoul. For a salaryman, it takes more than a decade to buy an apartment in Seoul.
To curb the soaring housing prices, the government introduced strict regulations late last year. But even after the introduction of the regulations, housing prices showed no sign of being stabilized.
As well, some Koreans denounced the president for appointing Cho Kuk as justice minister, noting a series of corruption scandals involving members of Cho’s family. Cho resigned from the post last October.
But those turning against President Moon are turning blind eyes to several facts. First, Shincheonji, the biggest religious cult in Korea, rather the government’s responses, is responsible for the spike in Covid-19 across the country. A patient known to be a Shincheonji follower visited a church in Daegu where more than 1,000 people were attending religious services, even when she had symptoms of the pandemic. Shincheonji officials, however, were slow to follow the government’s request to share lists of its followers to prevent the spread of Covid-19, though they did comply eventually.
At this writing, more than 2,000 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in South Korea. The majority of patients are followers of the cult or people who met Shincheonji followers in recent days. For this reason, many citizens are bitterly criticizing the religious cult for the outbreak of Covid-19.
Second, as for real-estate policies, the Park administration also failed to stabilize housing prices. Her government’s policies led to a property bubble and a surge of housing prices in Seoul. Noting the failure of the current real-estate policy, Moon called for the National Assembly to pass a bill for increasing taxation on those with high-priced and multiple houses to regulate speculative investment in real estate. As well, the government announced additional regulations to curb the rise of housing prices in cities on the outskirts of Seoul. Thus many who are criticizing Moon for failing to stabilize housing prices are playing down the failures of his predecessor.
Third, while many denounced the former justice minister for his family members’ corruption, fewer people expressed anger over Na Kyung won, the former parliamentary floor leader of the opposition Liberty Korea Party. She reportedly pressured a professor at Seoul National University, the most prestigious school in South Korea, to recruit her son as an intern. Then, her son was listed as the lead author of a medical paper when he was a teenager, in a case similar to one involving Cho Kuk’s daughter. Later, her son was able to enter Yale University thanks to the internship at Seoul National University and the medical paper.
Though many Koreans are seething at Moon Jae-in, some continue to support him. On the official Blue House website, more than 860,000 people signed a petition supporting Moon. The petition says government officials are fighting against Covid-19 even though they are plagued by fake news that is stirring up anti-government sentiment amid the outbreak.
The Blue House announced that it would respond to the petition calling for the impeachment of Moon. But in fact the president is unlikely to be impeached. Article 65, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic Korea outlines the procedures for impeaching a president: The majority of members of the National Assembly have to propose the impeachment, and more than two-thirds of members of the National Assembly must approve the proposal. But as of yet, none of the National Assembly members have proposed the impeachment of Moon Jae-in.
Above all, Moon hasn’t ever been involved in corruption, and nor has he abused his power.
Da-Sol Goh is a translator in Seoul. She is a graduate of Myongji University in Seoul, where she studied law and English literature. As a translator, she mainly handles foreign articles from anglophone countries dealing with politics and international issues.