Secret behind Moon Jae-In’s insane approval ratings
South Korean President Moon Jae-In was inaugurated on May 10th 2017 with 41% of the vote and sky-high approval ratings. Almost a year later, rather than following the usual trend of most new presidents whose approval ratings face a sharp plunge once they begin their job in earnest, Moon’s refuse to drop. Instead, they have comfortably mained themselves between 60 and 75%, and easily make him one of the most popular democratic leaders in the world. How can a president in a vibrant, free democracy like South Korea manage to keep almost everyone happy when so many other leaders fail to do so? For many South Koreans, it is his image as ‘one of us’ with humble beginnings, and his clear dedication to improving Korean society for everyone, not just the rich.
Moon Jae-in was born near Busan on January 24th 1953 to parents who had escaped from North Korea just two years earlier as part of the UN evacuation of Hungnam in the first 6 months of the Korean War. His family was exceedingly poor, but Moon’s ability enabled him to attend prestigious middle and high schools in Busan where he also quickly earned a name as a troublemaker. Far from being a model student, Moon spent most of high school drinking, smoking, and getting into fights.
Seeing how his richer classmates lived, Moon began to feel a sense of how unfair the world is. But rather than let it keep him down, it only motivated him further, and through hard work and determination he was able to go on to study law at KyungHee University in Seoul with a full scholarship. At the time, law was one of a few pathes available for those in poverty to hope to improve their life and enter the upper classes.
While studying in Seoul, Moon became an active participant in student protests against the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee. As a result, he was jailed several times, and even forced to enlist in the military, where he was involved in the response to the infamous axe murder incident on the DMZ. Moon refused to let this hold him back, and upon his return to college, he passed the Bar Exam and graduated law school second in his class. Yet despite this impressive feat, Moon’s past as a student activist became an obstacle in his path to becoming a judge, especially once he insisted he had done nothing wrong when questioned about it during the interview process.
Unable to become a judge, he chose instead to return to his hometown of Busan and pursue work as a private human rights lawyer, spending much of the 1980s representing labour activists and students who opposed the new Chun Doo-hwan military dictatorship, and taking a prominent role in the protests there during the 1987 Democratization Movement. During this time, he also befriended and partnered with another human rights lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun, better known as the future President of South Korea from 2003 to 2008.
The presidential bid and term of his close friend and law partner allowed Moon to enter the world of politics, something he had shown little interest in beforehand. During Roh’s presidential bid, Moon worked as his campaign manager, before going onto become Chief Presidential Secretary and a close aide, serving several roles throughout the administration. Following Roh’s presidency, Moon continued to get more involved in politics, eventually running for president himself in 2012, before losing out to Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the man he spent his student years protesting against. Not one to be discouraged, Moon continued on his quest to improve South Korean democracy, and was successfully elected leader of the opposition party in February 2015, where he embarked on a program of rebuilding and reform that allowed them to make incredible gains in the 2016 legislative elections.
With the impeachment of Park in March 2017, Moon once again ran for the presidency, this time winning with 41.1% of the vote, a comfortable lead over the second-place candidate Hong Jun-pyo who received only 24%. As the election was taking place following an impeachment, Moon’s presidency began immediately, without the usual 60-day transition period between the election and the beginning of his term.
Once in office, Moon immediately sought policies to increase minimum wage and decrease Korea’s incredibly high working hours, as well as taking multiple steps to bolster human rights in the country. Beyond policy, Moon has also earned the admiration of the public through his support of the #MeToo movement, and numerous thoughtful gestures in his interactions with normal citizens.