South Korea’s new president Yoon

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Seoul (AFP) – South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk-yeol is a political novice who has come to public attention as a prosecutor for his uncompromising investigations into some of the country’s most high-profile corruption scandals.

He appears ready to steer the world’s 10th largest economy in another foreign policy direction – promising to abandon years of tricky diplomacy and crack down on North Korea.

After winning a close election by the narrowest margin ever, he has already backed down on his most controversial campaign promises, including scrapping the gender equality ministry.

But his lack of legislative experience could prove costly as he faces a Democratic Party-controlled National Assembly that will likely scrutinize his policies.

Born in Seoul in 1960, Yoon studied law and played a key role in the conviction of former president Park Geun-hye for abuse of power.

As the country’s top prosecutor in 2019, he also charged a top aide to outgoing President Moon Jae-in with fraud and corruption in a case that tarnished the administration’s honest image.

This brought Yoon’s attention to the conservative opposition People Power party, who began courting him. He eventually won the party’s primary and became its presidential candidate.

Yoon became the “icon” of the Conservatives because he was “considered the best person to beat the Democratic Party candidate, despite his lack of political leadership experience”, Gi- Wook Shin, professor of sociology at Stanford.

“This does not bode well for Korean democracy as we can expect further polarization,” he added.

Contradictory policy

South Korean politics is notoriously contradictory, analysts say, where presidents only serve one five-year term.

Every living former leader has been imprisoned for corruption after leaving office.

Despite his role in ousting Park, Yoon has garnered support from disgruntled conservative voters by offering a chance for “revenge” against Moon – going so far as to threaten to investigate Moon for unspecified “irregularities”.

Even Yoon’s wife claimed her critics would be prosecuted if her husband won because that’s “the nature of power”, according to recorded comments released after a court battle.

This suggests that “he and his wife are more than willing to engage in retaliatory forensic investigations against political opponents,” Keung Yoon Bae, professor of Korean studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told AFP.

The outgoing administration’s latest agenda was to pass a reform bill stripping prosecutors of some of their power, in a move widely seen as an attempt by officials to avoid being targeted. after leaving office.

Local media reported that Yoon was particularly inspired by Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Despite his limited experience in politics, Yoon still managed to “consolidate the support of a large part of the country’s elite”, Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Korea, told AFP. Oslo.

Pre-emptive strike?

On nuclear-armed North Korea, Yoon threatened a preemptive strike if needed, a claim analysts said was extremely unrealistic.

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would take steps to develop “our state’s nuclear forces at the fastest possible speed”, in what analysts said was a response to the position. warmonger of Yoon.

Yoon also once said he wanted to buy an additional US THAAD missile system to counter the North, despite the risks that this could lead to further economic retaliation from China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. South.

His “lack of political skills will carry over to the field of foreign policy,” Minseon Ku, a political science researcher at Ohio State University, told AFP.

So far Yoon’s camp “looked like it was just copying and pasting foreign policy phrases from the speeches of Republican U.S. presidents,” she added.

He also committed a series of blunders during the election campaign, ranging from praising one of the country’s former dictators to bashing manual labor and African people.

“The next presidency comes at a time of transition for the world,” especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Karl Friedhoff of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs told AFP.

“It will mean making tough challenges on compromises that South Korea hasn’t had to make in the past. Is Yoon up to the task?”

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