Roh Moo-hyun (born September 1 (August 6 in lunar calendar), 1946) has been the President of South Korea since February 25, 2003. On March 12, 2004 he was impeached by the National Assembly, and Prime Minister Goh Kun replaced him as acting president. The impeachment was overturned by the country's Constitutional Court on May 14, 2004 and Roh's powers were immediately restored. Before entering politics, Roh was a noted human rights lawyer.
Early life and education
Roh was born in 1946 to a poor farming family in Gimhae, near Busan, in southeastern South Korea. In 1960, he led a protest in his school against mandatory essays extolling his country's first autocrat. A high school graduate who never went to college, after serving in the Korean army he worked at odd jobs and studied on his own to pass the bar exam in 1975. In 1977 he became regional judge at Daejeon, and began privately practicing tax law in 1978. In 1981, he defended a case against students who had been tortured for possession of contraband literature. In early 2003, he was quoted as saying, "When I saw their horrified eyes and their missing toenails, my comfortable life as a lawyer came to an end." He opposed the autocracy in place at the time in South Korea, and helped lead the pro-democracy June Struggle in 1987 against the authoritarian president Chun Doo-hwan.
With First Lady Kwon Yang-sook (in official transliteration: Gwon Yang-suk; 권양숙; 權良淑), Roh has a daughter (Jeong-yeon, 정연, born 1975), an embassy worker; and a son (Geon-ho, 건호, born 1973), an electronics conglomerate employee.
Early political career
The following year, he entered politics and "grilled" the government over corruption allegations and 1980 Gwangju Massacre. In the same year, he was elected to the Kukhoe (the National Assembly or parliament) representing the Unification Democratic Party(통일민주당) and shortly after gained popularity in the first parliament hearing which was broadcast throughout the nation. After his failed bid for the parliament in 2000, Roh was appointed as the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in 2001. He was elected the presidential candidate of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party in a landslide victory, eventually winning the presidency on December 19, 2002.
Roh entered office with an ambitious agenda—establishing Korea as the hub of northeast Asia, continuing the engagement policy or Sunshine Policy towards North Korea started by his predecessor Kim Dae-Jung, redefining the security relationship with the United States, reform of contentious politics through compromise, decentralization of government, continuing pressure on chaebol and enhancing corporate transparency, reforming education and tax systems, improvement of labor-management relations. This ambitious program has stalled due to continuing controversy that has plagued Roh’s government, leading to intense criticism both from his supporters, who feel he has not held to his principles, and from those who have opposed his policies from the outset. His administration has been touched by allegations of corruption serious enough for him to propose a referendum on his performance. That proposal having constitutional problems, Roh then offered to step down from office if an investigation showed that his campaign team had illicitly collected as much as one-tenth of the $42 million found to have been illegally raised by the campaign for the opposition Grand National Party.
Roh and his supporters left the Millennium Democratic Party in 2003 and a new party, the Uri Party (우리당—“Our Party” in Korean) was formed. His conciliatory North Korea policy is controversial with his opponents, and his decision to send troops to Iraq was controversial with his supporters. The country has become polarized over the United States with the young tending to an emotional anti-Americanism (exacerbated by incidents involving US troops stationed in Korea), while the older generation generally views the United States as the South’s staunch ally against the unpredictable North. Controversy within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade led to the replacement of the minister, and a contentious free trade treaty with Chile brought farmers to the streets.
On March 12, 2004, the South Korean parliament voted to impeach Roh Moo-hyun for illegal electioneering and incompetence charges. The vote was 193-2, with Roh's supporters abstaining from the vote. Pro-Roh Uri Party members had blocked the speaker's podium for 3 days to prevent a vote before being hauled out by opposition lawmakers and security guards. Prime Minister Goh Kun ran the country until the Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment decision on May 14, 2004.
The results of the April 2004 parliamentary election showed public support for him, with the Uri Party winning a majority of seats. The Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment decision on May 14, 2004, thus restoring Roh as President. His popularity, which was hovering around the 30% mark due to social unrest and disclosure of illegal fund-raising in the 2002 Presidential election, creation of new party and often-made improper remarks, went up dramatically to 50% mark soon after the assembly's vote to impeach Roh. This trend continued after he was restored to power.
However, after he came back to the political arena, many incidents happened that severely hurt the President. After pro-Roh Uri Party's campaign promise to make all construction companies open the prime cost of constructing apartment building to the public, which was very popular campaign promise, was broken, people's trust in Roh and the party slipped. There were public distress about the president also on his willingness to nominate Kim Hyuk-kyu, who defected the opposition Grand National Party just three months before the general election as new prime minister. Lee Hai-chan was instead nominated and confirmed as the new Prime Minister of South Korea. Also the cabinet shake-up which was done in three posts were unpopular because people saw no reason to make the shake-up. There was analysis that the shake-up was made for the future likely Uri Party Presidential nominee in 2007 and this fact angered people.
Also, worsening economic condition made people angry at Roh, especially when he and his party repeatedly stated that economy was in good shape while people were having hard time finding work. The national pension fund crisis also hurt people's living and such events made Roh again very unpopular, his ratings at the polls stood in the lower 30%'s.
His plan to deploy ground forces in Iraq also made him very unpopular, especially with Progressive forces who were the main supporters of Roh. Their call to end the deployment plan continued throughout Roh's term and became even louder after a South Korean named Kim Sun-il was kidnapped in Iraq by a terrorist group and was beheaded. Roh's government was not only criticized for not halting the deployment plan for Kim's sake, but also further condemned by the public when it was disclosed that an AP reporter asked whether there were kidnapped Korean personnel in Iraq long before Al-Jazeera showed video of Kim kidnapped. The government stated that they first learned of the incident when Al Jazeera showed the tape, but it is alleged that they knew it much earlier but sealed the incident to the public to make the public support the deployment plan. Roh's popularity dropped to the 20% level after this incident.
He was and is also criticized for pushing ahead the capital relocation plan from Seoul to the Chungcheong region, without giving attention to much public distress and criticism of the plan. He has repeatedly said that the criticism on the plan is being formed by major newspapers as Dong-a Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo, which are major conservative news media of the nation, and he has attacked those newspapers many times in public. On October 21, 2004, the Constitutional Court, the same institution that saved Roh from the impeachment, ruled that the special law for the relocation of the capital is unconstitutional, thus inflicting a huge blow to Roh's policy.
- Official English page of Roh Moo-Hyun (http://www.knowhow.or.kr/warp/en/president/story/basis/)
- The Uri Party (in Korean) (http://www.eparty.or.kr/)
- Nosamo: Roh Moo-hyun's fan club (in Korean) (http://www.nosamo.org/)
- BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2535143.stm)
- The Age (Australia) (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/25/1046064031462.html)
- CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/12/19/skorea.new.roh.profile/)