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(News Focus) Yoon rises from chief prosecutor to commander-in-chief

All News 04:32 March 10, 2022

By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has undergone a dramatic transformation from a prosecutor general serving outgoing President Moon Jae-in to Moon's successor on the opposition ticket after championing a fairer society built on common sense and the rule of law.

Yoon, 61, rose to prominence as a prosecutor investigating high-profile cases under the previous conservative administration of President Park Geun-hye, including the massive corruption scandal that led to her impeachment and imprisonment.

His status earned him the position of prosecutor general under Moon, but he soon fell out of favor with the liberal administration for targeting his investigations at the president's inner circle.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, delivers a speech during a campaign rally in the southeastern city of Ulsan on Feb. 19, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

As public discontent with the Moon administration grew, Yoon quickly emerged as a favorite to take on the ruling party in the next presidential election, and with the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) badly in need of a strong contender, Yoon fit the bill.

Yoon resigned from the prosecution last March following bitter clashes with the administration. Shortly after, he announced his presidential bid and joined the conservative PPP.

Yoon's role in the investigation into former President Park was a source of consternation for some conservatives, as she held a special place in their hearts as a daughter of the assassinated former President Park Chung-hee.

But Yoon's boldness in the face of power, and his steadfast adherence to principles, gave rise to hope that a Yoon presidency could meet their demands for justice and the rule of law.

A young Yoon Suk-yeol (3rd from L) is seen in this photo provided by his campaign. (Yonhap)

Born to parents who taught at universities, Yoon studied law at Seoul National University after following the advice of his father who encouraged him to study law even though he had a strong interest in economics.

Shortly before Chun Doo-hwan, the country's de facto leader at the time, ordered a bloody crackdown on a democracy uprising in Gwangju in May 1980, Yoon took part in a mock trial at his university and sentenced Chun to life imprisonment.

To escape retribution, Yoon fled to the eastern coastal town of Gangneung where his mother's side of the family lived and stayed there for three months.

In 1991, Yoon passed the bar on his ninth try.

Yoon Suk-yeol is seen singing during a college trip in this photo provided by his campaign. (Yonhap)

"This administration is probably very afraid and sick to the bone about my victory in the primary," Yoon said in his acceptance speech after winning the PPP's nomination in November.

"That's because I am the symbol of fairness who toppled Cho Kuk's hypocrisy and Choo Mi-ae's arrogance, as well as the fatal pain that destroys the legitimacy of the Moon Jae-in administration," he said.

President Moon Jae-in (L) walks with new Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on July 25, 2019, after presenting him with a letter of appointment. (Yonhap)

Cho served briefly as justice minister under Moon before an academic fraud scandal involving his family forced him to resign. Choo was appointed to succeed Cho and clashed repeatedly with Yoon while aggressively pushing the president's agenda for prosecution reform.

The animosity between Yoon and Moon resurfaced in February when the then-candidate told a local newspaper he would launch an investigation into the administration's "deep-rooted evils" if elected, and the president slammed him for making "groundless" allegations.

Yoon Suk-yeol (C), the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, gestures during a campaign rally in the southeastern city of Busan on Feb. 15, 2022, the first day of the 22-day official campaign period for the March 9 presidential election. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

During the course of his campaign, Yoon made a series of controversial pledges that appeared to target conservatives and young male voters in their 20s and 30s.

On North Korea, he suggested the need to launch a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat from the regime and pledged to deploy additional units of the U.S. THAAD antimissile system in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression.

On relations with the United States, Yoon called for deepening the bilateral alliance as the central axis of Seoul's foreign policy, while on China, he vowed to further upgrade the two countries' relationship despite noting that most South Koreans do not like the neighboring country.

With Japan, Yoon vowed to repair the deeply fractured relationship by recognizing the suffering of South Koreans under Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule but also looking to a future of co-existence.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, looks at the North Korean side with binoculars during a visit to an observation post of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division inside the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas at the central section of the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, on Dec. 20, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Yoon prompted criticism after pledging to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which his opponents viewed as a move to woo young male voters resentful of the rise of feminism.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a recurring theme during the race.

To help small businesses hit by the government's tough virus restrictions, Yoon promised to provide 50 trillion won (US$41 billion) in loans and another 43 trillion won in cash handouts.

In the real estate sector, he pledged to supply 2.5 million new homes and help stabilize home prices by easing regulations and lowering capital gains and property ownership taxes.

Yoon frequently came under attack for his careless remarks, such as when he praised the political leadership of Chun, with the exception of his staging of a military coup and his crackdown on the 1980 uprising.

The president-elect was accused of relying on superstition and shamans after he displayed the Chinese character for "king" on his palm and was reported to have ties to an anal acupuncture specialist.

The biggest liability for Yoon was his wife, Kim Keon-hee, who was accused of taking bribes and manipulating stocks before he launched his campaign and later faced allegations of lying on her resume when she applied for jobs.

The couple married in 2012 and live with four dogs and three cats. They have no children.

Kim Keon-hee, the wife of People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, holds a press conference regarding allegations she falsified her credentials on job applications at the party's headquarters in Seoul on Dec. 26, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

hague@yna.co.kr
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