“The election will determine the nation’s future. I hope it becomes the one of unity reflecting our people’s wish, rather than the one of hostility, hatred, and division,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on the upcoming presidential election to be held on March 9 during his New Year’s speech. While I hope the election will be a path of unity to the future, however, the president’s words sound empty as it is the reality that public opinions are sharply divided between a new government or the extension of the current party. It is largely because there has been more negative energy of division, rather than positive energy of future and unity during his term.
It is also unfortunate that President Moon did not express his willingness to remain strictly neutral regarding the presidential election during his last New Year’s speech. It cannot be denied that the ruling party wants to continue to be in power but it should not lead to behavior beyond laws or commonsense. The past governments had been careful not to get involved in the issues of unfair or manipulated elections. The current government, however, seems to be willing to mobilize any political tools.
For example, the ruling party decided to examine a measure to charge property tax on the basis of the previous year’s posted prices for households that own one housing to reduce the tax burden of property tax and gross real estate tax caused by a sharp rise in housing prices. A decision to freeze electricity and gas prices in the first quarter and raise them right after the presidential election is an obvious trick. The party also decided to provide five million won to 550,000 self-business owners as compensation for their loss at the end of January in advance and have the expense settled later.
Insisting on having the prominent figures of the ruling party in Minister of Justice and Minister of the Interior and Safety, which are the positions in charge of the election, is incomprehensible. There was no precedence in the past governments. Currently, there is a total of six ministers from the ruling party, including the two aforementioned and the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee. While Minister of Justice Park Beom-kye said he would firmly respond to election offenses, he himself made biased comments giving guidelines for an investigation of the family members of the People Power Party’s presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, such as an allegation about manipulating stock prices of Deutsch Motors, and an investigation of the Daejang-dong project, in which the Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung is involved.
President Moon ordered Cheong Wa Dae and his administration to remain politically neutral after the National Election Commission requested the prosecution’s investigation of two vice ministers who supposedly helped develop the ruling party’s election pledges. If his word is to be kept, the president himself should have a stronger determination to be neutral. The first step to show a minimum level of intention to remain neutral will be having the two ministers in charge of the election step down and the vice-ministers to play the role by proxy.