President Moon Jae-in marks his 100th day in office Thursday, with -- like many of his predecessors -- both good and bad grades.
Overall, the general public gives a relatively good mark to what the Moon administration has been doing since it took office in the midst of a national crisis that peaked with the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.
The latest public opinion poll put Moon’s approval rating at 71.8 percent -- it went down for two consecutive weeks -- which is still high in comparison to those of his recent predecessors in the same stage of their presidencies. The North Korea crisis and the controversy over the appointment of a top science official -- who eventually dropped out -- are believed to have put the president’s popularity on the downhill.
Nevertheless, an approval rating over 70 percent is quite high for a leader who earned 41 percent of the election votes. Moon’s high-running popularity is only comparable to those of the late President Kim Young-sam, who mesmerized the nation with a series of reform initiatives in the early stage of his presidency.
In part, Moon’s popularity benefits from the failure of the Park administration. Moon’s election victory was boosted by public anger and antipathy toward Park, which was highlighted by the months of mass candlelight vigils that preceded the official campaign for the by-election.
It certainly is too early for the people to forget what went wrong in the Park administration and such a public sentiment and anticipation for a “different” administration partly forms the basis for the positive public assessment of the Moon administration.
Of course, Moon himself deserves much of the credit. Most of all, he succeeded in filling the power gap created by the ouster of Park by putting a new administration well in place. Unlike his predecessor, Moon was not given any transition period, but he overcame the handicap and ensured an orderly change of government, effectively ending the unprecedented political crisis touched off by Park’s massive corruption scandal.
Moon’s efforts to shift his presidency and governing style from authoritarianism and secularism often identified with Korean leaders -- especially the disgraced Park -- has also been a big boost for his public image.
But good public image is one thing and good national governing is another. Since taking office, Moon pushed a series of reform programs, many of which bolstered backing from core support groups but which also brought backlashes from opponents.
Real concern is that those policy programs are formulated and implemented unilaterally, without sufficient discussions and preparations.
There is already a long list: the decision to halt the construction of two nuclear reactors, the increase of the legal minimum wage by the record-high margin and a push for creating jobs and turning contingent workers into regular workers in the public sector. The Moon administration is also unveiling one new welfare program after another.
All these populist policy programs are not backed by substantial financial resources. Moon’s harshest critics have enough reasons to argue that with all the expensive programs in place, Korea will go bankrupt by the time Moon steps down in 2021.
The past 100 days of the Moon administration also raised skepticism about prospects for peace on the peninsula. The president’s ambiguity over whether to focus on sanctions or dialogue with North Korea and the deployment of a US missile shield system here, only added to the security crisis created by the escalating standoff between the US and North Korea.
In his Liberation Day address Tuesday, Moon tried to assure the nation that there will be no war on the peninsula. He said that no one can take military action on the peninsula without consent from South Korea.
But Moon failed to provide specific plans and ways to resolve the current crisis, only repeating his call on the North to halt nuclear and missile tests and accept South Korea’s proposal for inter-Korean talks.
As things stand, the North Korean crisis over the past 100 days under the Moon administration only worsened, and more worrisome is that as Moon’s address shows, no solution is in sight.