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President reflects on year since snap election

May 11,2018
President Moon Jae-in on Thursday pledged to look after the livelihoods of the people who put him in office in a special message commemorating his first year in office.

Moon was sworn in on May 10 last year, a day after he won a snap election to fill the vacancy created by the impeachment and removal of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is serving a 24-year prison term for corruption and abuse of power.

“It has been one year already,” Moon said. “Though I have worked hard, I am sure there are many shortcomings.

“Nevertheless, the Moon Jae-in government will do its best to improve the people’s livelihood while always keeping in mind it was the people who brought us to power,” said the president, referring to massive candlelight vigils during the winter of 2016-2017 that led to the ouster of former President Park.

Looking back on his first 12 months, Moon said he tried to rid the country of corruption and make a country that could make Koreans feel proud.

Speaking of his diplomatic maneuvers to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue, the human rights lawyer-turned-president noted he spent the past year trying to set in place a sustainable peace on the peninsula free of fear of war and nuclear weapons.

Moon’s assumption of the presidency was unprecedented and didn’t allow him any transition. He became president just hours after he was declared victor in the May 9 election.

“I began my duty by receiving a briefing by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by a farewell ceremony by my neighbors [on the morning of May 10] and paying my respects at Seoul National Cemetery and visiting headquarters of political parties and the National Assembly,” Moon recalled. He said his first day as president ended with a phone call from U.S. President Donald Trump congratulating him on his electoral victory.

Making clear that his government owes much to tens of thousands of people who took to the streets with candles, Moon said he would always “remember voice [of the people] from the square,” referring to Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul where the months of protests took place.

Entering his second year in office, Moon is enjoying a high approval rating, unprecedented in Korean political history. All of his predecessors saw their popularity dwindle after a year in office.

In the latest poll conducted on Sunday and Monday by Metrix at the request of the Seoul Daily, Moon’s approval stood at 77.4 percent. The poll was conducted of 1,000 adults nationwide with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Moon’s diplomacy was particularly popular. Some 70.1 percent of the respondents said Moon excelled in foreign and national security affairs, indicating a positive public reaction to the inter-Korean summit last month and high expectations for an upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit talk.

On the performance of 18 government ministries in the past year, 30.1 percent of respondents picked the Foreign Affairs Ministry as the best-performing ministry, followed by the Unification Ministry with 27 percent, a sign of the public’s support for improved inter-Korean relations.

But the government’s policies on employment and education are not perceived as favorably with many questioning the government’s job creation and income-led growth economic agenda.

Working to fulfill a campaign promise to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won ($9.35) by 2020, the Moon government raised the minimum hourly wage by 16.4 percent to 7,530 won this year from 6,470 won in 2017, the largest increase since 2001.

While the positive effects of the wage increase remain to be seen, the negative ones were quickly obvious as small businesses struggled to pay higher salaries. To help small companies afford higher payrolls, the government is offering subsidies to companies with fewer than 30 employees, a move that has drawn criticism that taxpayers’ money is being used to sustain the minimum wage increase.

In an online poll conducted by recruitment company Incruit from April 30 to May 4 on 387 job seekers aged between 20 and 30, 82.9 percent said they were not feeling the impact of the government’s job creation efforts.

On education, the government has been under fire for inconsistency in policy direction. Its flip-flopping on a ban on the teaching of English at public kindergarten has been one case in point. Facing strong protests from parents, the Education Ministry delayed the ban on English classes for preschool children for a year.

The Education Ministry and Employment Ministry were the two least approved in the Metrix poll. 16.2 percent of respondents picked the Education Ministry as the worst-performing ministry while 16.1 percent said it was the Employment Ministry.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]