South Korea: Yoon Suk-yeol elected president
Sylvie Claire / May 10, 2022
South Korea on Tuesday, May 10, inaugurated its new president Yoon Suk-yeol, who began his five-year term by calling on North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal, as relations between the two neighbors go through a period of high tension.
The 61-year-old conservative takes office at a time when an increasingly bellicose North Korea has conducted a record 15 missile tests since January, including two last week. Seoul and Washington also suspect it will soon resume nuclear testing. On Tuesday at midnight, he attended his first briefing as Army chief with the top brass in the bunker beneath the presidential palace.
After being sworn in at a giant ceremony at the National Assembly in Seoul, Yoon Suk-yeol, in his inaugural speech, called on North Korea to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, which he said poses a threat to global security. He said that if Pyongyang truly commits to a process of complete denuclearization, he will be ready to present a bold plan to revive the North Korean economy. Today, we are facing multiple crises, he added, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain problems and global conflicts that he said cast a big shadow over us.
Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor and political novice, was narrowly elected in March and came to power with a popularity rating of just 41 per cent, one of the lowest in the history of South Korea's democracy for a first term in office, according to a recent Gallup poll. The president has promised a tougher foreign policy for his country, the world's 10th largest economy, after failed attempts at rapprochement with the North that marked the term of his predecessor Moon Jae-in.
In the wake of his election victory, Yoon Suk-yeol pledged to deal severely with the threat posed by the Kim Jong Un regime. But the door to dialogue is always open, he told his supporters. During his election campaign, however, he called Kim Jong Un a rude boy and said to the voters: If you give me a chance, I will teach him good manners. Yoon Suk-yeol also called for a stronger relationship with his U.S. ally, and met with President Joe Biden, pledging to maintain close coordination on North Korea. Mr. Biden is expected to visit South Korea in late May.
On the domestic front, growing public frustration with Moon Jae-in's liberal government appears to have been behind his political opponent's rise to power. Moon had won the 2017 presidential election on a promise to implement an equal opportunity agenda after the impeachment of his predecessor Park Geun-hye, mired in a corruption scandal. But he was later accused of being lax on his own staff who were found guilty of taking bribes. He has also been criticized for his economic policies, which have been accused of increasing inequality rather than reducing it. Yoon Suk-yeol is expected to propose a radically different set of reforms from those of his predecessor.
About 40,000 people were invited to the inauguration ceremony, which will be by far the most expensive ever organized with a budget of 3.3 billion won. The slogan chosen is: Once again, the Republic of Korea! A new country of the people. The U.S. delegation is led by Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris. Japan and China, with whom Yoon Suk-yeol intends to ease the sometimes stormy relations, have sent high-level representatives to the ceremony.