President responsible for political chaos today
One of the country’s largest political rallies in recent years was held in central Seoul, Thursday, demanding the resignation of Justice Minister Cho Kuk as well as President Moon Jae-in.
The rally, organized by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and affiliated conservative forces, took place four days after a separate demonstration was held in southern Seoul in support of Cho and his prosecution reform drive. Cho’s supporters plan to gather on the streets near the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office again today.
Given that Cho has become the flashpoint of a fierce ideological battle here, the pro- and anti-Cho rallies may continue as long as he remains in office. This does not mean Cho should resign, but it would be almost impossible for him to carry out reform properly. The simmering political confrontation is also emerging as a huge risk for President Moon.
The grim reality is that even if Cho leaves, that would not be the end of the story. Moon could be thrown into deeper trouble. He absolutely needs an exit plan before the ideological conflict spirals out of control.
In terms of scale, the anti-Cho rally was larger than expected. Even though we can hardly trust the organizers’ claim that the number of participants reached up to 3 million — some even said 20 million — it was truly the largest demonstration in central Seoul since the candlelit protests in 2016 that led to President Park Geunhye’s impeachment.
Some liberal politicians played down the rally, claiming that many participants had been “paid” to take part, and that the protesters were mainly elderly people who had grudges toward the liberal government and sympathized with the ousted former president. But this perception is biased, and will only make the problem worse.
Moon went ahead with Cho’s appointment as justice minister despite corruption allegations surrounding him and his family, and protests from conservatives, with the firm conviction that Cho was the best choice to complete the judicial reform, one of the liberal President’s priorities.
But for the past months, Moon has failed to reach out to opponents, and has largely been ignorant of their voices, causing criticism from conservatives that he was taking the path of a “dictator.” At Thursday’s rally, participants chanted slogans such as “Dictator Moon, get out!” and “Arrest Cho Kuk.”
The rally should serve as a wake-up call for Moon, who will be halfway through his five-year term next month. This is not just because the anti-Cho rally could develop into a bigger anti-government demonstration. Arguably, Moon is the one who should take the biggest responsibility for the political chaos today.