South Korea’s Moon Replaces Justice Minister as Elections Near

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President Moon Jae-in removed his justice minister after her fight with the South Korea’s top prosecutor helped drive the government’s support rate to a record low just months ahead of major metropolitan elections.

Moon on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who offered to step down earlier this month after trying to oust prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl. Yoon has been probing members of Moon’s government including Choo and has seen his support rise during the political fight, becoming the top choice among respondents in a major poll to be the next president.

South Korea’s Moon Replaces Justice Minister as Elections Near

The new justice minister, lawmaker Park Beom-kye, will “complete the prosecution reformation,” Chung Man-ho, a senior public communication secretary for the president’s office, said on Wednesday.

The move comes as Moon tries to build support in a parliament controlled by his progressives for a raft of legislation that includes making South Korea carbon-neutral by 2050 and strengthening the government’s fiscal role to rebuild a virus-hit economy by increasing the budget by 8.5%.

Moon’s progressive camp is seeking to hold on to control of the country’s biggest cities Seoul and Busan in elections in April that come as opposition conservatives have been picking up support and are looking to take control of the cities. Making matters worse for Moon is that both former mayors, members of his Democratic Party, faced sexual assault allegations with the mayor of Seoul committing suicide in July as an investigation heated up.

Moon, who has a single, five-year term that ends in 2022, saw his approval rating hit a record low of 36.7%, according to a Realmeter poll on Monday.

Choo, a staunch Moon ally, has accused the top prosecutor of thwarting the president’s attempts at reform. Last month, she suspended him on allegations of abusing his office, but Yoon has won court injunctions allowing him to return to work. Yoon has been looking into alleged nepotism by Choo, a charge she denies.

The authority of prosecutors has been a sore spot in South Korea for years. Although the office pledges independence, it has faced criticism from the left and right for using its power for political purposes and protecting the privileged. Yoon, who contributed to the impeachment of the former president Park Geun-hye, was handpicked by Moon in 2019, with a mandate to make good on the president’s pledges to clean up government and go after the most powerful.

But soon after taking office, Yoon focused his attention on Moon’s then justice ministry, a former close aide named Cho Kuk. Cho was indicted on a dozen charges, including bribery. Cho was forced from office while calling the charges false and politically motivated.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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