By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) -A former South Korean prosecutor-general announced on Tuesday his candidacy in next year’s presidential election with a fierce attack on what he called the “corrupt and incompetent” administration of President Moon Jae-in.
Moon is limited to just one term under the constitution and his liberal Democratic Party has yet to nominate its presidential candidate.
Former top prosecutor Yoon Suk-youl, 60, criticised Moon’s failure to curb rising house prices and accused his government of incompetence and hypocrisy.
“This regime destroyed the foundation of the country by abandoning common sense, fairness and the rule of law,” Yoon told a news conference. “We have to stop the corrupt and incompetent ruling forces’ attempt to extend their term and plunder people.”
Moon has rejected accusations of corruption. His office declined to comment on Yoon’s remarks or his presidential bid.
Moon’s approval ratings have hit record lows amid skyrocketing house prices, an insider land trading scandal and deepening inequality, which contributed to his party’s heavy defeat in key mayoral elections in April.
A series of scandals involving Moon aides and ruling party politicians accused of abusing power to amass wealth and secure favours for their family have left the Democrats scrambling for an image make-over, while raising the hopes of political novices ahead of the election scheduled for next March.
Yoon was initially seen as a long shot. He served as a prosecutor for nearly 30 years until he stepped down in March but has no political experience. However, even before announcing his bid, Yoon has been topping polls for presidential candidates in the past few months.
In a Realmeter survey released last week, Yoon had the support of 32.3% of respondents. Lee Jae-myung, the popular governor of Gyeonggi province and a member of Moon’s party, came second on 22.8 percent.
After being appointed by Moon as prosecutor-general in 2019, Yoon took flak from the president’s followers for indicting Cho Kuk, a key presidential aide and former justice minister, on a dozen charges including bribery and document fraud.
But that move boosted public support for Yoon, prompting the conservative main opposition People Power Party to court him.
Yoon said on Tuesday he shared the conservatives’ political philosophy, but declined to say whether he would join the party.
The conservatives, with a 36-year-old new chief, are seeking to entice younger, centrist voters who have emerged as a key bloc amid growing disillusionment with the ruling party.
Moon’s Democratic Party has two other potential heavyweight candidates – former prime ministers Chung Sye-kyun and Lee Nak-yon – though they have struggled to improve their ratings.
Gyeonggi province chief Lee, whose popularity has grown over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to announce his presidential bid this week and to take part in a Democratic primary in September alongside Chung and Lee.
The People Power has no clear frontrunner, but is calling for Yoon and Choe Jae-hyeong, a former top auditor who resigned from his post on Monday, to join its own primary in August.
(Reporting by Hyonhee ShinEditing by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones)