South Korea Conservatives Seek Ex-Prosecutor for Presidency Run

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South Korea’s main conservative opposition party is looking to entice the country’s former top prosecutor to be its leading candidate, a move that could make him a front-runner in the presidential election less than a year away.

Lawmakers from the People Power Party said Tuesday they plan to make an offer to former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl after a leadership vote next week. The group is looking to unseat the progressive government of President Moon Jae-in by turning to a person who Moon had handpicked but who later faced backlash from Moon for launching corruptions probes into the president’s administration.

Yoon is at the top, or near the top, of several polls to replace Moon when the president’s single, five-year term ends in May 2022. Yoon’s office did not reply for a request for comment and Yoon has not said publicly if he intends to run. Yoon is seen as offering the opposition party a strong chance to take back the presidency, with an appeal that stretches beyond the party’s conservative base.

“After our leadership election next week, we would like to make a formal offer to Yoon,” Chung Jin-suk, a five-term lawmaker with the conservative camp said in a phone interview Tuesday. Chung added he met Yoon last week.

“It’s a little difficult to predict when exactly he would join the party, but I did tell him to join us if he makes an official announcement to become a politician,” added Chung, who comes from the same political constituency as Yoon.

The PPP holds its leadership election on June 11. Kweon Seong-dong, a prosecutor-turned-lawmaker, who also met Yoon last week, said in a Tuesday telephone interview he expects Yoon to join the party about a month after the party’s leadership vote.

Yoon has been expanding his contacts with the PPP but may take some time in reaching a decision, Yonhap News reported Tuesday citing a person close to the former prosecutor general. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Yoon could join the PPP as early as July, citing an unnamed source.

The party made a rare apology in December for their two past presidents. It was landmark gesture as it sought to lure back swing voters who lost faith in the group after Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye -- conservatives who served back-to-back as presidents -- were imprisoned for corruption.

The PPP last August overtook Moon’s Democratic Party in support rates, but since then, the Democratic Party has clawed back. In a Gallup Korea weekly tracking poll on Friday, it was seven percentage points ahead of the PPP, with 34% of respondents favoring the president’s ruling party.

Yoon, whose investigation of Park eventually led to her impeachment, was handpicked by Moon in 2019 with a mandate to make good on the president’s pledges to go after the most powerful. But ties soured after probes that included members of government and led to the resignations of two of Moon’s justice ministers.

Yoon resigned in March in protest against Moon’s policy to strip the prosecutors’ office of investigative powers. The move opened a path for a presidential run and came after Moon’s government tried to remove Yoon from office.

Yoon last year said he was considering ways to serve the nation, not ruling out the possibility of running for the presidency.

The authority of prosecutors has been a sensitive issue in South Korea for years. While the office pledges independence, it has faced criticism from the left and right for using its power for political purposes and protecting the privileged.

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