What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
On October 19, 2022, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol had lunch with the heads of local councils of the People Power Party. When one of them mentioned North Korea’s recent provocations and threats and said that the party should not be pushed around by the Juche faction, Yoon answered:
“Whether you are a liberal or a leftist, if you agree with liberal democracy, we can compromise and govern together, but the Juche faction that supports North Korea is neither liberal nor leftist. It is impossible to cooperate and govern with hostile anti-national forces.”
— Yoon Suk Yeol, President of the Republic of Korea, October 19, 2022
His remark raised hackles, as it was not the first mention of old ideological concepts from the government recently. A week earlier, Kim Moon-soo, the current head of the Economic, Social and Labor Council (ESLC), had accused former president Moon Jae-in of being a “Kimilsung-ist”, or Kim Il Sung supporter, and Chung Jin-seok, chairman of the People Power Party’s Emergency Planning Committee, supported this statement saying that Kim Moon-soo would not be the only one with those suspicions.
On the same day, the Prosecution Service arrested without warrant Kim Yong, the current deputy director of the Institute for Democracy within the Democratic Party of Korea and a close associate of the Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, and attempted to execute a search and seizure warrant at the institute, which is located in the Democratic Party’s central headquarters.
The Democratic Party of Korea immediately issued a statement regarding Yoon’s remark as well as the search and seizure warrant:
“Today, at the meeting of the People Power Party’s local councils outside of the National Assembly, President Yoon Suk Yeol said, ‘The pro-North Korean Juche faction is an anti-national force and is not an option for cooperative governance.”
Could it be that the pro-North Korean Juche faction that the president mentioned is the Democratic Party of Korea?
How many political parties can be involved in cooperation in the National Assembly? The first opposition party, which is the foremost group for cooperative governance with the ruling party, is the Democratic Party of Korea.
The president-appointed chairman of the Economic, Social and Labor Committee has called the former president a ‘Kimilsung-ist’, and is President Yoon Suk Yeol now denouncing the first opposition party as a pro-North Korean Juche faction?
For the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, the Democratic Party has not been a target of cooperative governance but of political retaliation.
Prosecutors have tried to raid the Democratic Party, and President Yoon Suk Yeol is refusing to govern cooperatively with the opposition party. Should we call this the “day of oppression of the opposition”? If President Yoon Suk Yeol wants to become the embodiment of political oppression, the Democratic Party of Korea will fight to protect democracy.
— An Hoyeong, senior spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Korea, October 19, 2022
Yoon’s remark has grave implications, due to South Korea’s history of governments (namely the Park Chung-hee administration and the Chun Doo-hwan administration) oppressing the opposition by labeling them as supporters of North Korea.
On October 20, during his morning briefing with the press, a reporter asked Yoon Suk Yeol to clarify whom he meant by the “pro-North Korean Juche faction” as people were saying that he was referring to the opposition party (the Democratic Party). Yoon replied:
“One surely knows whether or not they themselves are a member of the Juche faction. I was not talking about a specific person. The president is someone who is responsible for protecting our Constitution and the country under the Constitution, and someone asked a question about that, so I answered.”
— Yoon Suk Yeol, President of the Republic of Korea, October 20, 2022
His ambiguous remark only brought on more criticism from the Democratic Party, with some members of the People Power Party also expressing concerns.
In an interview on Kim Hyun-jung’s News Show, Cheon Haram, a National Assembly member for the People Power Party, said:
“And anyway, as you said, the president did not specifically say that these people were pro-North Korea, and if you only look at his exact words, you can say that it is just a statement in principle. Of course, it is true that the pro-North Korean Juche faction is an anti-constitutional force. And it is not an option for cooperative governance. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether it was necessary to use such an expression politically. Because recently, our party seems to have been issuing a lot of right-leaning messages overall. Now we have to analyze the solidarity of the voters–after President Yoon Suk Yeol was elected, the support base of our party has actually decreased a lot. And just a rough analysis of the declining voter base shows that relatively moderate voters have stopped supporting us.”
— Cheon Haram, a National Assembly member for the People Power Party, October 20, 2022
Yoon Seok Youl’s approval rating has fallen again, according to Real Meter, with his statement on the Juche faction having had an impact.