The 2022 presidential election in South Korea promises a confrontation between two populists who come from outside the ruling bloc of their respective parties.
The Conservative People’s Power Party (PPP) announced on November 5 that it had appointed former attorney general Yoon Seok-youl to take on Liberal Democratic Party standard bearer Lee Jae-myung, who defeated faction choice Moon Lee Nak-yeon in their primary.
Yoon was not a member of the People Power Party and not even a political candidate when he tendered his resignation as attorney general in March 2021. He only joined the party a day after entering the race. . Yet he won the admiration of conservatives who saw him as standing up to the power-hungry presidential administration of Moon Jae-in and his intruding Justice Department.
While Yoon attended Seoul National University (SNU), Korean General Chun Doo-hwan seized power of the presidency and declared martial law in 1980, quelling protests across the country and killing hundreds. in Gwangju. Yoon took over from the prosecution in a mock trial at the SNU and demanded the death penalty for Chun. During Chun’s dictatorship, making such an argument was not only controversial, but also dangerous.
Yoon fled to Gangwon, the province where his mother was from, and kept a low profile for a while. Upon returning to school, he failed the second round of the bar exam nine times. Jugan Kyunghyang noted that it was common at the time for students to be blacklisted for such tests on the basis of their political expression. Although not confirmed, the weekly speculated that Chun could have been punished for his involvement in the mock trial.
Yoon was called to the bar in 1991, three years after Chun’s resignation, and began his career as a prosecutor in Daegu in 1994. A new era of democracy was born, in which corrupt politicians were held to account. Chun was investigated and sentenced to death in a live courtroom in 1996. (His sentence would be reduced to life in prison on appeal and commuted by President Kim Young-sam.) 1999, Yoon arrested National Police Agency Chairman Park Hui. – won corruption charges, triggering a backlash from the administration of then President Kim Dae-jung.
Over the course of his career, he will investigate issues relating to every Korean president and come into conflict with many of them. While investigating the National Intelligence Service for engaging in a propaganda campaign supporting the presidential campaign of conservative candidate Park Geun-hye in 2012, he was attacked by conservative leaders as a “leftist prosecutor” .
While investigating Moon’s Justice Minister Kuk, a progressive frontrunner, Democrats called for his resignation. Moon’s current Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has fired or reassigned many of Yoon’s allies to the prosecutor’s office. Yoon denounced the “tyranny” of the Moon administration. Finally, Yoon resigned on March 4, 2021, following a series of court battles over the Moon administration’s attempts to suspend him.
The prosecutor who made a name for himself by toppling conservative darling Park – in a 2016 corruption case that right-wing conspiracy theorists still consider a hoax – had become a hero of the anti-Moon right. He made the protection of the rule of law and liberal democracy the theme of his announcement speech: “The current administration is trying to take freedom from liberal democracy, which is the foundation of the constitution. … If we do not achieve regime change, the world will be dominated by demagogues and corrupt interest cartels.
Yoon speaks bluntly and at times hyperbolic. He is not polite and likes to share his opinion on any issue that veteran politicians would refrain from addressing, doing so in a way that leaves him open to what his supporters would consider media slander that comes out of his words. their context. On issues ranging from women’s rights to food security to working hours and more, it has drawn fire.
On October 19, while campaigning in Busan, he said: “There are people who say that if you rule out the military coup and 5.18 [the Gwangju massacre], former President Chun behaved well in politics. Quite a few people in Honam [the progressive southwestern region that includes Gwangju] say that.
Such comments could bring down an ordinary candidate. He walked them home without enthusiasm. Some sympathetic analysts said that he was only praising Chun’s administrative capacity. Others said he was indulging in the good graces of conservatives in the Yeongnam area opposite Honam. But now Yoon finds himself a candidate for an opposition party with a motivated base, neck and neck with his opponent, five months before the elections.
You could say that aside from his lack of restraint (or maybe because of it), Yoon Seok-yeol is an expert in politics.
Mitchell Blatt is a former editorial assistant at National interest, Chinese-English translator and lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong. It was published in USA Today, The Daily Beast, The Korea Times, Silkwinds review, and Areo Magazine, among other points of sale. Follow him on Facebook at @MitchBlattWriter.