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Yoon should drive 3 major reforms with 1 year under his belt

Yoon should drive 3 major reforms with 1 year under his belt

Posted May. 09, 2023 08:02,   

Updated May. 09, 2023 08:02


Tomorrow, it will be one year since the Yoon Suk Yeol administration was launched in South Korea. President Yoon who served as a prosecutor and did not have enough political experience took office with both expectations and concerns about him. Even though he won 49 percent of the votes in the election, the approval rating for his handling of state affairs is less than 40 percent after a year in office. It is evidence of the fact that his administration’s handling of state affairs has not met people’s expectations.

The Yoon administration was launched with a promise to restore fairness and common sense, which was undermined by the previous administration. The president pointed to anti-intellectualism as a cause of the crisis of democracy and brought the value of ‘freedom’ to the forefront during his inaugural speech. With one year under his belt, it is time to objectively assess if the Yoon administration has been operating state affairs according to its promise.

The touchstones for restoring fairness, common sense, and democracy were personnel appointments, including forming a government. However, the results were unsatisfactory. A series of minister candidates were denied, causing much criticism of failed personnel appointments. The administration was also criticized for building a 'republic of prosecutors' as those who were once prosecutors were appointed to key positions in the presidential office and ministries. Whenever he was criticized for his failed personnel appointments, President Yoon urged people to compare his results with the previous administration's. However, the faults of the previous administration cannot be an excuse to justify the mistakes of the current administration. Making bold corrections to faulty practices and policies, rather than blaming others, will better fit the leadership model based on fairness and common sense suggested by the president.

President Yoon said last year that he would pursue three major reforms in pensions, labor, and education, even if they are unpopular. The three major reforms reflect the desperate needs of the times but they are being conducted at a slow pace. The National Assembly’s discussions of pension reform, which was the first step of the process, had no result to show for it. While the government said it would submit a comprehensive operation plan for national pension by October, it remains to be seen. While labor reform was initiated by taking strong actions against labor unions’ illegal activities in construction sites and requesting labor unions to release their accounting data, a related system reform, such as making working hours more flexible, has not made any progress as it is stuck in the frame of 65 hours per week. Education reform is yet to take the first step.

Three major reforms are not going to be completed simply with the president’s statement that they are decisions for future generations. They are sensitive and difficult tasks that require the coordination of highly conflicting interests among different regions and generations. There cannot be a single step forward without consent from people and stakeholders. The Yoon administration should make proactive efforts to broaden people’s social consensus and obtain stakeholders’ consent for the reform initiatives.

With his second year in the office coming up, South Korea’s economic situations are still challenging. Due to continued hegemonic competition between the U.S. and China and inflation caused by the Ukraine war, people’s livelihoods are still struggling. Some say that the country may not even achieve one percent growth this year as it has experienced trade deficits for 14 consecutive months due to sluggish export of semiconductors to China. A hard-line confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties before the general elections for National Assembly members next year will hinder the company’s economic recovery.

The Yoon administration should return to the basics of being responsible for state affairs and completely overhaul its current style of handling state affairs. Through a cabinet reshuffle being prepared to mark the administration’s one year in office, personnel reform should be performed to give hope to the public. It should also focus more on communication and governance to ask for understanding not only from the public but also from the opposition party. The administration should keep a tight rein on its state affairs and personnel reform to properly drive three major reforms which have been slow to make progress.