One week has passed since the left-leaning liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won South Korea’s presidential election. “Harmony and incorporation” were the fundamental doctrines of his candidacy as South Korea has become an increasingly divided nation since the removal of Park Geun Hye due to a massive corruption scandal.
During the campaign, Moon pledged to reduce the political influence of chaebols, the large Korean business conglomerates typically owned by single lines of families, in the wake of the corruption scandals that tarnished the legacy of previous presidents. He also vowed to offer different methods to soothe North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs by enhancing dialogue rather than punishing Pyongyang, which was a policy of force employed by the former administration.
According to the Yeonhap News Agency, Moon’s close associates noted that Moon spent much of his life fighting for the socially weak, leading to say that the growing social and economic inequality should be the priority for the next government. In his inauguration speech, Moon swore that “once again, under the Moon Jae In government and the Democratic Party of Korea, everyone will have equal opportunities. The process will be fair, and the result will be righteous… I will be a president who wipes away the citizens’ tears. I promise to be a president who interacts with the citizens.”
Moon was born on South Korea’s Geoje Island in 1953 after his parents fled the North in
December 1950, the year that the Korean War broke out. At that time, the devastated postwar South Korea lacked the economic basis to sustain a families of refugees: In his autobiography, “Moon Jae In -The Destiny,” Moon recalls and ponders over his family’s difficult financial situation: “Poverty was at the center of my childhood, but being poor did teach me some lessons: I was more independent and mature than my peers. I also realized that money is not the most important thing in life.”
Despite his precarious situation, Moon excelled in school and earned a law degree from the prestigious Kyung Hee University. Moon took a prominent role in the student protests during the 1970s opposing the decades-long dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, father of former President Park Geun Hye. Although his activism momentarily penalized him during his university career with an arrest and brief expulsion, his activist background radically disqualified him when Moon applied for governmental jobs.
Moon then relocated to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, where he began his career as a human rights lawyer. He worked with his lifelong comrade Roh Moo Hyun during the 1980s under the governance of authoritarian military leader Chun Doo Hwan.
Even after Roh entered politics, Moon pursued his legal practice in Busan, defending students and workers arrested for leading protests and labor strikes.
After Roh’s election victory in 2002, Moon became one of the president’s aides, working to eliminate corruption in the highest spheres of the government and screening candidates for top government jobs. He was later promoted as Roh’s chief of staff where he gained his first experience in politics. Moon has been closely associated with Roh, until the latter committed suicide in 2009 as allegations of bribery started to threaten his family and close associates.
From day one, Moon displayed his willingness to break away from the pervasive
authoritarianism that have long been associated with the Korean presidency. He first visited the four top opposition parties and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye Kyun before the inauguration ceremony. Though some might have been staged as a publicity stunt, Moon was also photographed moving along the line at the Blue House cafeteria while chatting with his aides in an informal setting – thus contrasting himself from his ousted predecessor Park.
Also, Moon’s decision to spend much of his time in one of the three small buildings designed for top presidential aides’ offices instead of the presidential compound is another proof of the new leader’s determination to make himself more readily approachable, unlike Park who rarely considerated her aides. Park’s lack of communication stemming from the detachment from the public and her aides is believed to be one of the leading causes that ruined Park’s presidency.
The newly elected South Korean Leader Moon Jae In’s life as a son of poor North Korean refugees, student activist, and renowned human rights lawyer seems to have shaped his core ideologies; as he successfully endured a turbulent life, Moon appears destined to lead South Korea’s complex affairs for the next five years, which is likely to promote hope in the country’s future.