By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL, June 24 (Reuters) – South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol has broken years of tradition by holding informal daily media events to answer questions on topics ranging from inflation and ties to Korea from the North next door to the first lady and even boyband BTS.
Such broad access to the president was previously unheard of. This stems from Yoon’s decision to move his office out of the official Blue House, whose former occupants largely avoided such interactions for over seven decades.
“It apparently helps Yoon dispel concerns about his lack of political experience and gives him a sense of the state of public opinion,” said Eom Kyeong-young, a political commentator based in the capital, Seoul.
Yoon, a former attorney general, entered politics just a year ago, before winning the presidency in March by a margin of just 0.7%, the lowest in South Korea’s history.
Upon his inauguration in May, Yoon moved the presidential office to the South Korean Defense Ministry compound, describing the official residence as a symbol of an “imperial presidency” and vowing not to “hide behind it”. his collaborators.
His liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, rarely held press conferences and almost always filtered his communication with the media and the public through layers of secretaries.
Analysts view Yoon’s freewheeling daily sessions as part of a larger communications strategy that allows him to drive political initiatives and present himself as a confident and approachable leader.
The campaign has also allayed public suspicions about the political newcomer, they say.
Polls show the new strategy is helping win much-needed support and political capital in Yoon’s efforts to accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in a parliament dominated by the opposition Democratic Party.
Although Yoon’s approval rating fell to 47.6% in a recent poll, slightly lower than the disapproval figure of 47.9%, another June poll showed communication as the most frequently cited reason. by those who favored him.
“The landslide victory of Yoon’s conservative party in the local elections in June shows that the public is not so much against the new administration,” Eom said.
Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) incumbents beat mayoral candidates in the two largest cities of Seoul and the port city of Busan in the contest, while his candidates won five of seven parliamentary seats. .
Eom attributed Yoon’s low approval rating since the start of his term to inflation risks that threaten to undermine an economic recovery and his lack of support as a new politician.
But some critics say Yoon’s sessions increase the chances he can make mistakes.
“He might make one mistake a day,” the opposition party’s Yun Kun-young wrote on Facebook last week, saying the new practice could be “the biggest risk factor” for the government.
The presidential office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Yoon has previously come under fire for controversial remarks made during morning briefings, such as one in defense of his candidate for education minister, who has a record of driving under the influence of alcohol a few years ago. years.
But the daily meetings and public reaction would ultimately help the government shape policy better, said Shin Yul, a professor of political science at Myongji University in Seoul.
“It might be a burden on his assistants at the moment, but it will be a long-term benefit,” Shin said. “A slip can’t be a bigger problem than a political failure.” (Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)