The Korea Herald


Yoon aides set to leave office to run in general election

Around 30 presidential staff, including senior secretaries, to vie for parliamentary seats

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Nov. 6, 2023 - 15:47

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol (Yonhap)

With five months remaining ahead of the general election next year, around 30 of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s senior and assistant secretaries are poised to resign to jump into the parliamentary race, widely seen as a midterm test for the president, who has suffered from low approval ratings since taking office last year.

The upcoming election is pivotal for Yoon as he faces disapproval ratings of approximately 60 percent and his party has been hit hard after a defeat in a by-election held to choose the head of the Seoul district of Gangseo-gu last month to the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea's candidate.

On Sunday, deputy spokesperson Kim Gi-heung resigned to run for the general election. Kim, a former reporter for the Korean Broadcasting System and a key figure in Yoon's inner circle since his initial foray into politics, is seen as one of the core allies who backed Yoon through his campaign and the presidential transition. Kim is set to contend for a position representing the Yeonsu-gu B constituency in Incheon, where he resides.

At the senior secretary level, press secretary Kim Eun-hye is anticipated to vie for a parliamentary seat in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province. Kim is also a former journalist who entered politics by joining the presidential team in August last year, following an unsuccessful bid for Gyeonggi Province mayor. Additionally, Political Affairs Secretary Lee Jin-bok and Civil Affairs Secretary Kang Seung-kyu are reportedly planning to depart to pursue legislative positions.

At the secretary level, Seo Seung-woo, former autonomous administration secretary, retired last month and was the first among the secretary-level officials to announce his candidacy. In addition, state affairs planning secretary Kang Myung-gu, political affairs secretary Jeon Hee-kyung and legal affairs secretary Joo Jin-woo are reportedly poised to reveal their political intentions soon.

In the ranks of assistant secretaries, former President Kim Young-sam’s grandson Kim In-kyu, who was an assistant secretary to political affairs for Yoon, resigned from his position to run for office to represent a Busan constituency. Another assistant secretary to political affairs, Lee Seung-hwan, also resigned to run in Jungnang-gu, Seoul. Former lawyer and assistant secretary to public relations Jun Ji-hyun also resigned to run for office in the Seoul area.

In the ruling bloc, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategy and Finance Choo Kyung-ho, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Min-shik, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Cho Seung-hwan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin are also known to be considering running for office. Speculation is also rife within political circles about the potential candidacy of Lee Bok-hyun, the chief of the Financial Supervisory Service and a noted confidant of the president.

Public officials who are planning to run in the general election must resign by Jan. 11 of next year, 90 days before the election date.

This election is a strategic opportunity for President Yoon to attempt to shift the balance of power in the parliament, which is currently dominated by the opposition. Following the loss in Gangseo-gu, he showed an unexpected change of tone. Yoon counseled his aides to heed public opinion and absorb criticism without being defensive.

Moving away from his previously confrontational approach to the opposition, Yoon has signaled a change in tactics. During a recent visit to the National Assembly to deliver a budget speech for the upcoming year, he reached out to shake hands with lawmakers from the Democratic Party, including his former competitor in the presidential election, Lee Jae-myung. Yoon also emphasized “cooperation” at a luncheon held at the National Assembly after his speech.

In the wake of these high-profile resignations, the presidential office is poised to undertake a significant reshuffling of its staff. Han Oh-seop, the present director of the presidential office’s government affairs situation center, is slated for advancement to the role of senior secretary for political affairs. In a parallel move, spokesperson Lee Do-woon will get a promotion to the position of press secretary. Kim Jeong-soo, former dean of the Military Academy, appears to have been selected as senior civil society secretary.