February 8, 2024
SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office on Friday hinted at establishing an office dedicated to first lady Kim Keon Hee, reneging on a campaign pledge not to operate such an office during his term.
The president is “considering the option to set up the office in case it wins public consent over the matter,” said a source from the presidential office who declined to be named. The source did not elaborate on how to gauge public approval of the establishment.
Earlier Friday, Yoon vetoed a special bill that would allow a special counsel to launch a probe into Kim.
The source said the establishment of the office for Kim “has little to do with the ongoing matter over the special bill” to give the opposition bloc the power to nominate the special counsel.
Yoon is at odds with the opposition bloc over whether a special counsel recommended by political opponents should be nominated to investigate allegations of Kim’s stock manipulation that occurred over a decade ago.
Yoon’s aides and his political allies, including the interim leader of the conservative People Power Party, Han Dong-hoon, have labeled the bill as “maliciously motivated,” given that the bill passed through the National Assembly unprecedently without bipartisan consent, and that the bill’s passage comes with the general election just about three months away, potentially misguiding voters.
Opposition lawmakers have accused Kim of involvement in white-collar crime multiple times since 2020, but Kim has yet to be indicted.
The opposition bloc has speculated that Yoon could have been using his influence as a prosecutor general turned president to drag out the investigations into his wife. Opposition voices have also slammed the Yoon administration for using the power of the government to protect the president’s family, deterring justice.
The office of the first lady of South Korea was introduced in 1972 during the authoritarian Park Chung-hee regime to define the roles and responsibilities of then-first lady Yuk Young-soo and support her handling of civil affairs.
Even after the inauguration of South Korea’s first female president Park Geun-hye in 2013, who was not married, the first lady’s office continued to operate, tasked with civil affairs, until shutting down in 2015.
Park’s successor, the liberal Moon Jae-in, revived the first lady’s office upon his inauguration in 2017. After his term ended, Moon’s successor Yoon immediately carried out his presidential campaign pledge to dissolve the office. The move was in line with Yoon‘s greater pledge to scale down the presidential office at the time, through which he also removed positions including chief presidential secretary for policy, which he revived in November.