South Korea’s Yoon Meets Opposition Leader in Bid to Reset Presidency

Yonhap via Reuters
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol meets opposition leader Lee Jae-myung for talks in Seoul on Monday.

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met opposition leader Lee Jae-myung for talks on Monday after a crushing election defeat for the president’s ruling party led to widespread calls for a change in his style of leadership and policy direction.

Lee said the election result was a demand for a change of course. There was, however, no immediate sign the leaders found common ground in many areas to unlock a stalemate in government.

“Mr. President, what I’ve said may be very uncomfortable. But I believe this is a time to convey the will of the people,” Lee said, in comments relayed by Yoon’s office. “I really wish you to be a successful president.”

Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) failed to make inroads into the opposition’s grip on parliament in the April 10 election, which was widely seen as a referendum on the conservative leader’s first two years in power.

The meeting is the first Yoon has held with Lee since taking office and comes as analysts have said his combative political stance appears to have alienated many voters.

As his support ratings in opinion polls have plunged, Yoon invited Lee to meet, following criticism he did not communicate with the opposition or the public enough.

Lee asked Yoon to consider his Democratic Party’s (DP) proposal to provide an income allowance to all South Koreans at a time of high inflation and household debt.

He also expressed regret over Yoon’s veto of a series of bills aimed at bringing in special prosecutors, including to probe the 2022 Halloween crush in Seoul that killed 159 people.

Lee called for a resolution to a deadlock over the government’s healthcare reforms, which his party supported. Young doctors walked off the job more than two months ago in protest over a centerpiece plan to boost doctor numbers.

Yoon’s office said there were clear differences of views on how to ease the public’s economic burden, indicating Yoon rejected Lee’s call for a universal income allowance.

“Considering the impact on prices, interest rate and the fiscal balance, it is better to use a more effective support measure,” Yoon’s public affairs secretary Lee Do-woon said.

At stake for Yoon as he met Lee was whether he could try to regain the initiative for his pledges to cut taxes, ease business regulations and expand family support in the world’s fastest-aging society while safeguarding fiscal responsibility.

Analysts have said it is vital that Yoon reaches compromises since Lee’s Democratic Party was firmly in control of parliament, hamstringing the president’s ability to pass legislation.