Yoon Suk-yeol

President of South Korea since 2022

South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol portrait.jpg
Official portrait, 2021
13th President of South Korea
Assumed office
10 May 2022Prime Minister
  • Han Duck-soo
Preceded byMoon Jae-inProsecutor General of South KoreaIn office
25 July 2019 – 4 March 2021PresidentMoon Jae-inPreceded byMoon Moo-ilSucceeded byKim Oh-soo Personal detailsBorn (1960-12-18) 18 December 1960 (age 61)
Seoul, South KoreaPolitical partyPeople Power (2021–present)Other political
affiliationsIndependent (before 2021)Spouse
Kim Keon-hee
(m. 2012)
  • Yoon Ki-jung (father)
  • Choi Jeong-ja (mother)
ResidencePresidential residenceAlma materSeoul National University (LLB, LLM)OccupationPoliticianProfessionLawyerReligionRoman Catholicism (Christian name: Ambrose)[1]SignatureKorean nameHangul
Revised RomanizationYun Seok-yeolMcCune–ReischauerYun SŏgyŏlIPAKorean pronunciation: [jun.sʰʌ̹ŋ.ɲ̟ʌ̹ɭ / jun.sʰʌ̹.ɟʌ̹ɭ][a]
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Yoon Suk-yeol
  • Political career

President (2022–present)
Prosecutor General (2019–2021)

  • Presidency

  • Elections

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Yoon Suk-yeol[a] (Korean윤석열; born 18 December 1960) is a South Korean politician, former public prosecutor and lawyer who has been serving as the 13th president of South Korea since 2022. Prior to his presidency, he served as Prosecutor General of South Korea between 2019 and 2021.

Born in Seoul, Yoon attended Seoul National University. In his capacity as the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office, he played a key role in convicting former presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak for abuse of power.[3][4][5] Later, Yoon served as prosecutor general of South Korea between 2019 and 2021, in which office he secured the conviction of Cho Kuk, an influential figure in President Moon Jae-in's administration.[3] As a member of the People Power Party, Yoon narrowly defeated Democratic Party nominee Lee Jae-myung in the 2022 South Korean presidential election. Yoon assumed office as president on 10 May 2022.[6]

Early life and education

Yoon in 1976 at age 16

Yoon was born in Bomun-dong, Seongbuk District, Seoul in 1960[7] and raised in Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun District.[8][9] His father, Yoon Ki-jung was born in Nonsan[10] and is a professor emeritus of economics at Yonsei University and a full member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Korea.[8] His mother, Choi Jeong-ja was born in Gangneung and was a lecturer at Ewha Womans University before leaving the position after getting married.[8]

Yoon attended Daegwang Elementary School and Joongrang Middle School, transferring to Choongam Middle School after finishing eighth grade. After graduating from Choongam High School,[11] he studied law at Seoul National University.[8][12][13] He is a colleague of Moon Kang-bae, a lawyer who described Yoon as an "extrovert and faithful" person.[8] Shortly after the Gwangju Uprising, Yoon and his colleagues held a mock trial, where he acted as a prosecutor, demanding the death penalty for Chun Doo-hwan, the president of the republic.[8][12] Following the mock trial, Yoon escaped to Gangwon Province.[8][12]

Yoon was exempted in 1982 from national service due to anisometropia.[14] Yoon later added that he was unable to obtain a driving licence because of the condition.[14]

Yoon passed the first part of the bar exam in Year 4 of university but failed the second.[8][12] He kept failing for the next nine years. He finally passed the bar in 1991,[8][11][12][13][9] in the same graduating class as Democratic Party assemblyman and minister of justice Park Beom-kye.[8]

Prosecutorial career

Early career

Yoon started his career at Daegu Public Prosecutor's Office in 1994.[8][11][12][13][9] He headed the Special Branch and Central Investigation Department, both of which investigate corruption-related cases.[8] In 1999, he arrested Assistant Commissioner Park Hui-won, who was involved in a corruption[15][9] in spite of strong objections from bureaucrats in the Kim Dae-jung cabinet.[8]

In January 2002, Yoon worked briefly as a lawyer at Bae, Kim & Lee but left as he felt that he was not suited to the position.[9] Upon his return as a prosecutor, he prosecuted such pro-Roh Moo-hyun figures as Ahn Hee-jung and Kang Keum-won.[8] In 2006, he apprehended Chung Mong-koo for his complicity in a slush fund case at Hyundai Motor Company.[8][9] In 2008, he worked for the independent counsel team resolving the BBK incident related to President Lee Myung-bak.[8]

In 2013, Yoon led a special investigation team that looked into the National Intelligence Service (NIS)'s involvement in the 2012 NIS public opinion manipulation scandal. Yoon sought the prosecution of the former head of the NIS, Won Sei-hoon for violating the Public Official Election Act. He accused Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn of influencing his investigation.[16] As a result, he was demoted from the Seoul prosecutors' office to the Daegu and Daejeon High Prosecutors' Office.[17][16]

Yoon later became head of investigations in the special prosecutor team of Park Young-soo, which investigated allegations pertaining to the 2016 Choi Soon-sil scandal involving Choi, Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong and then-president Park Geun-hye, which led to the impeachment of the president in December 2016.[17]

On 19 May 2017, the newly-elected president Moon Jae-in appointed Yoon as chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.[13] The prosecution indicted two former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, three former NIS chiefs, former chief justice Yang Sung-tae and more than 100 other former officials and business executives under his tenure.[18] Yoon also led an investigation into accounting fraud at Samsung.[16]

Prosecutor general

On 17 June 2019, Yoon was nominated as prosecutor general, replacing Moon Moo-il.[12][9] His nomination was welcomed by the ruling Democratic Party and the Party for Democracy and Peace, but was opposed by the Liberty Korea Party and the Bareunmirae Party.[19] The minor party Justice Party remained neutral.[19] On 16 July, he was officially appointed as the new prosecutor general[20] and started his term nine days later.[21] President Moon ordered him to be neutral, adding that any kind of corruption must be strictly investigated though it is related to the government.[21]

Yoon has not led investigations against Minister of Justice Cho Kuk,[22] who was involved in various scandals. His decision to prosecute was welcomed by the opposition but was condemned by the Democratic Party and its supporters.[22][23][24]

After Choo Mi-ae was appointed the new minister of justice, she took an action against several prosecutors close to Yoon.[25][26] Choo attributed her decision to Yoon's failure to submit a reorganization plan for his department, which she requested, but this was seen as retaliation by the Blue House for Cho Kuk's prosecution.[27]

In April 2020, Democratic Party lawmakers again attacked Yoon and called on him to resign as the prosecution started investigations into election law violation cases involving both ruling and opposition politicians and also suspected election rigging of the Ulsan mayoral race for Mayor Song Cheol-ho in 2018 by senior secretaries at the Blue House.[28][29][30]

Suspension, reinstatement, and resignation

On 24 November 2020, Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae suspended Yoon from his position, citing alleged ethical violations, abuse of power, and interference into investigations of his associates and family members.[31] Yoon filed an injunction against the minister's suspension order, which was approved by the Seoul Administrative Court on 1 December, temporarily halting the suspension.[32][33] On 16 December, the Ministry of Justice then imposed a two-month suspension on Yoon, accepting four of six major charges for disciplinary action. The decision was subsequently approved by President Moon.[34] However on 24 December, following an injunction filed at the Seoul Administrative Court, the suspension was overturned as the court accepted Yoon's claim that the process to suspend him was unfair.[35]

On 4 March 2021, Yoon tendered his resignation, which was accepted by President Moon.[36]

2022 presidential election

Yoon had been considered a potential presidential candidate for the 2022 presidential election since the aftermath of the Cho Kuk scandal, appearing as a significant candidate in general election opinion polls since at least January 2020.[37][38] In a January 2021 poll including all possible presidential candidates, Yoon led as the most favored with 30.4 percent of the vote, more than the individual supports for the ruling Democratic Party frontrunners Lee Jae-myung and Lee Nak-yon.[39]

On 29 June 2021, Yoon officially announced his candidacy in the 2022 presidential election.[40] On 12 July, he registered with the National Election Commission as an independent candidate.[41]

Yoon Suk-yeol leaving the People Power Party (PPP) headquarters shortly after joining the party on 30 July 2021

On 30 July 2021, Yoon officially joined the conservative People Power Party, which is currently the main opposition party in South Korea.[41] Prior to this Yoon had been a political independent, although his popular support came primarily from conservatives. Yoon was welcomed into the PPP by Choi Jae-hyung, a fellow 2022 presidential candidate, in a small public ceremony at the PPP headquarters located in Yeouido, Seoul. Choi was the former head of the Board of Audit and Inspection and had also just recently joined the PPP, officially having become a member on 15 July. Yoon's welcoming ceremony into the People Power Party notably did not include recently elected party leader Lee Jun-seok, who had been outside of Seoul at the time.[41]

During the primary election period, Yoon came under criticism for several perceived gaffes and controversial statements. In July, Yoon advocated for a 120-hour work week while critiquing President Moon's policy of the 52-hour maximum work week.[42] Yoon advocated deregulating food safety standards because, in his opinion, "poor people should be allowed to eat substandard food for lower prices", citing economist Milton Friedman's 1980 book Free to Choose: A Personal Statement as the inspiration for the idea.[43][44] In August, Yoon stated that South Korea's recent feminist movement was a significant contributing factor to the issue of the nation's low birth rates.[43] Later that same week, Yoon claimed during an interview with Busan Ilbo that there was "basically no radiation leak" from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster because "the reactors themselves didn't collapse."[45]

On 2 September 2021, news website Newsverse reported that during his time as prosecutor general, Yoon had allegedly ordered a senior prosecutor and a politician to file politically motivated criminal complaints against Democratic Party politicians ahead of the 2020 legislative elections in an attempt to sway the elections. The article alleged that Yoon ordered senior prosecutor Son Jun-sung to file criminal complaints against opposing Democratic Party candidates and ordered PPP National Assembly member Kim Woong to file criminal complaints against Democratic Party politicians and journalists friendly with the party ahead of the 2020 elections.[46][47] In response to the allegations, an internal investigatory probe was launched by the Supreme Prosecutor's Office, and an investigation was launched by the recently formed Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO).[46][48] Yoon denied the allegations and, in response to the allegations and probe, reported informant Cho Sung-eun and Director of the National Intellience Service Park Jie-won to the CIO.[47]

In early September, support for PPP primary contender Hong Joon-pyo, who had been the nominee for PPP predecessor Liberty Korea Party in the 2017 presidential election, rose sharply in polls, which made Hong the most significant contender to Yoon since the beginning of the campaign cycle. A 6 September poll of contenders across all parties showed support for Hong at 13.6%, up from 4.2% a week earlier, behind Yoon who had support at 26.4%.[49]

Yoon with Chung Jin-suk in November 2021

During primary debates amongst PPP presidential candidates, Yoon appeared to have the hanja character for "king" written on his left palm, a shamanist talisman for good luck.[50][51][52] Yoon's primary opponents, including Hong Joon-pyo and Yoo Seong-min, criticized Yoon for using shamanist practices and made unflattering comparisons to the Choi Soon-sil scandal in which President Park Geun-hye allowed a shaman to have undue influence over her executive decisions.[51] In response to the criticism, Yoon stated that "a supporter drew that as a message of support, encouraging me to be confident like a 'king' during the debate", and that he had forgotten to wash the mark off.[53]

In October, Yoon made complimentary remarks about former far-right military dictator of South Korea Chun Doo-hwan. The remarks came during a meeting with People Power Party officials in Busan, during which Yoon said that "many people still consider Chun as having done well in politics, except the military coup and the Gwangju Uprising", later adding that he believed even people in Honam, the geographic area including Gwangju, felt the same way.[54] Chun Doo-hwan, a widely maligned figure in South Korea, was responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including the torture and killings of innocent civilians. Yoon apologized for these remarks.[55] Yoon again apologized for his remarks when he visited the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju on 10 November, although his visit was met by protesters.[56][57]

On 5 November 2021, Yoon officially won the nomination of the People Power Party for the 2022 presidential election.[58][59] The win came after Yoon fought off a surge in support for rival candidate Hong Joon-pyo in the latter weeks of the primary. The nomination resulted from a four-day period of voting by party members and the general public. Yoon Suk-yeol won 47.85% of the votes, a total of 347,963 votes, and of the remaining candidates Hong Joon-pyo won 41.50% of the votes, Yoo Seong-min won 7.47% of the votes, and Won Hee-ryong won 3.17% of the votes.[60]

Yoon narrowly won the 2022 presidential election that took place on 9 March 2022. Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung conceded defeat in the early hours of the following day.[61][62][63] Yoon won 48.56% of the votes, while Lee Jae-Myung won 47.83% of the vote.[64] Yoon's presidential election victory was by the closest margin in South Korean history.[65]

Presidency (2022–present)

Relocation of presidential office

Yoon takes the presidential oath of office outside the National Assembly, 10 May 2022
Yoon met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the Presidential Residence in Seoul, 21 May 2022

On 20 March 2022, he announced that he would establish his presidential office in the Ministry of National Defense building in Yongsan District, Seoul, instead of the Blue House, which was open to the public as a park on 10 May 2022.[66] He would take office that day.[6] This marked the end of the Blue House as the official presidential office and residence after 74 years.

2022 police bureau proposal

In late July 2022, Yoon proposed the creation of a "police bureau", in order to ensure greater government oversight of the police force. In response, several police officers protested, claiming the measure was a dictatorial measure to compromise the political neutrality of the police.[67]

In response to the protests, Lee Sang-min, Yoon's Interior Minister, compared them to the 1979 Coup d'état of December Twelfth, though he later walked back the remarks. Yoon himself also criticised the protests, saying, "Like many, I am also deeply concerned about the collective protest of the police chiefs," and calling it a "serious breach" of police discipline.[67]

Following the protests, the presidential office threatened to punish police officers. Additional remarks by Yoon Hee-keun, President Yoon's choice as Commissioner General of the National Police Agency, suggesting that police should focus on wages rather than the establishment of a police bureau, further enflamed tensions.[68]

Nancy Pelosi's visit

During US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to South Korea on 4 August 2022, Yoon snubbed a meeting with her, stating that he wanted to enjoy his vacation.[69][70][71]

Queen Elizabeth's funeral

While in London, Yoon’s opponents accused him of disrespect when he missed the chance to view the queen’s coffin lying in state – which he blamed on traffic.[72]

Public approval

Less than three months into his presidency, Yoon's approval rating dropped to less than 30 percent amidst the 2021–2022 inflation surge, a controversial education policy rollout (including a proposal to lower the starting elementary school age from six to five), controversies over nepotism in personnel appointments, the police bureau proposal, and conflicts within Yoon's People Power Party.[73][74] His popularity fell further to 19% in August.[75]

Political positions

Yoon Suk-yeol (left) with PPP party leader Lee Jun-seok (right)

Yoon identifies himself as "conservative".[76] Chung Doo-un, a former conservative member of parliament, has considered Yoon a conservative.[77] Political commentator Chin Jung-kwon, who supports Yoon, called his political inclination "libertarianism".[78][79]

Yoon opposes economic interventionism by the government. He has cited economist Milton Friedman and Friedman's 1980 book Free to Choose: A Personal Statement as a major influence on his belief in economic liberalism.[80]

On 22 September 2021, Yoon stated that he will ask that the United States redeploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea if there is a threat from North Korea.[81] Nuclear weapons have not been deployed by the US in South Korea since the early 1990s, after an agreement with Russia and in an effort to ease tensions between North and South Korea.[82] Speaking for the United States, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan and Korea Mark Lambert rejected Yoon's call for the re-nuclearization of South Korea and said the proposal was against U.S. policy.[82] Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, called Yoon's statement "irresponsible".[83] Yoon will attempt to reduce dependence on China and promote supply chain resilience.[84]

On 7 November 2021, Yoon stated that if elected president he would pardon former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, both of whom were serving lengthy prison sentences for corruption (Park Geun-hye was later pardoned by President Moon Jae-in on 24 December of that same year).[85][86]

On 12 November 2021, Yoon indicated that he would be open to more US THAAD missile deployments in South Korea.[87]

Gender equality policy

President Yoon entered office with a pledge to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. This measure came from the unique context of South Korea, where the gender conflict has become very intense. He announced that the new government would not address gender as a collective, but rather focus on and respond to specific individual issues.[88]

As of May 2022, there were only three women among the State Councilors of the Yoon Suk-yeol government and only two women among the vice-ministerial level officials, so there is some criticism that the government lacks women's representation.[89] In response to these criticisms, Yoon appointed Park Soon-ae as the Minister of Education and Kim Seung-hee as the Minister of Welfare, setting the ratio of female-to-male ministers in the cabinet to 30%.[90] However, Park Soon-ae resigned on 5 August, just 34 days into her tenure; Yoon's approval rating had fallen from 30% to 24%, largely due to public backlash against Park's school reform plans.[91]

Personal life

President Yoon has been married to Kim Keon-hee since 2012. His wife stated that she prefers the term first spouse instead of the first lady.[92]

Kim is the president of Covana Contents, a company that focuses on art exhibitions.[93] Kim has faced an investigation that alleged the she had taken 'kickbacks' for hosting art exhibitions, in addition to reports that circulated in the South Korean media that she inflated her resume with connections to New York University Stern School of Business. She responded by offering a public apology.[92]

Yoon is the fourth South Korean president who is a Catholic, after his predecessor Moon Jae-in, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun (a lapsed Catholic). He was baptized with the Christian name Ambrose.[7]


  1. ^ a b Officially transcribed as Yoon Suk Yeol. According to regular Korean reading rules, Yoon's given name should be pronounced 서결 Seogyeol /sʌ.kjʌl/, but he prefers to pronounce his name as 성녈 Seongnyeol /sʌŋ.njʌl/, as if it was written 석렬 Seogryeol or 석녈 Seognyeol.[2]


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External links

  • Media related to Yoon Suk-yeol at Wikimedia Commons
  • Quotations related to Yoon Suk-yeol at Wikiquote
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