The Korea Herald

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Ex-presidents break silence in rare election move

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : April 9, 2024 - 14:07

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Combined picture of former President Moon Jae-in (first photo from the left) smiling in front of the press at a campaign rally in Changwon, South Kyungnam Province, Park Geun-hye (right in the middle photo) standing next to People Power Party's interim leader Han Dong-hoon and Lee Myung-bak (third photo from the left) paying respect to the victims of the 2010 Cheonan attack. (Yonhap) Combined picture of former President Moon Jae-in (first photo from the left) smiling in front of the press at a campaign rally in Changwon, South Kyungnam Province, Park Geun-hye (right in the middle photo) standing next to People Power Party's interim leader Han Dong-hoon and Lee Myung-bak (third photo from the left) paying respect to the victims of the 2010 Cheonan attack. (Yonhap)

Former South Korean presidents have traditionally maintained a reserved stance regarding elections held after their tenure, but some have been making rather different moves in this general election.

Showing active support for his party, the Democratic Party of Korea, Moon Jae-in, the predecessor of incumbent President Yoon Suk Yeol, has been the most vigorous among the past three presidents, directly joining rallies of individual candidates from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

Dressed in a blue jacket which rep resents the color of the Democratic Party, Moon showed up with candidates in regions spanning from Yangsan and Changwon, cities located in South Gyeongsang Province to Busan and Ulsan. Besides his vociferous blue jacket, which grabbed the public's eye, his comments on the scene aroused scores of political reactions.

Moon bluntly lambasted the current Yoon administration, saying he has "never seen a government as bad as the current one" in his 70 years of life during a campaign rally for Ulsan Jung-gu candidate of the Democratic Party's Oh Sang-taek last week.

He also encouraged citizens to vote, emphasizing that "this general election is a very important election that determines the fate of Korea," during a campaign rally for Kim Tae-sun, a candidate for the Ulsan Dong-gu District.

Most previous presidents have distanced themselves from campaigns to balance political unity before the election. In the past, some have only indirectly supported candidates by visiting them, showing no precedent for campaigning directly.

Opponents strongly criticized Moon's action, noting that no former presidents have directly intervened in the elections. Kim Kyung-yul, a member of the emergency committee of the People Power Party urged Moon to "keep the dignity as a former president."

"Apart from whether he has the freedom to campaign or not, I know that previous presidents have never practiced such moves in Korea. He said that he wants to be forgotten. I would like to ask him to be a little more cautious," Kim said on a news radio show.

Moon had previously answered that he wanted to return to a state where nobody knows him to a question "What kind of president do you want to be remembered as" at a New Year press briefing in January 2020.

Meanwhile, former President Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak also showed support but in a restrained manner.

In response to Moon's strong support, prospects for Park's campaigning loomed large. However, due to opinions that her appearance would only worsen the public sentiment, Park canceled her schedule on April 3 to rally in Daegu, a city that holds strong conservative support.

Being the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, she has a great pool of fans from conservative voters. Her imprisonment divided a country in which the old rivalry between right and left still shapes politics.

Park, impeached over a political scandal involving interventions to the presidency from her confidante Choi Soon-sil, was released from prison in 2022 where she spent nearly five years following a conviction on corruption charges.

Park's appearance was only spotted when People Power Party's interim leader Hang Dong-hoon visited her in Daegu, where she ordered "unity" for the party.

Lee Myung-bak, who served as the 10th president, visited the National Cemetery in Daejeon on March 25, a day ahead of the 14th anniversary of the Cheonan attack. He grieved that ideologies were clashing ahead of the election and urged the importance of "finding a route to concord, not division of people."