Support for South Korea's Moon hits record low as woes pile up

In this photo taken on Sept 9, 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announces a statement at the president office in Seoul, South Korea. A poll showed that the disapproval rate for Mr Moon's government hit a record high of 53 per cent. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in's approval rating hit a record low after he appointed a scandal-tainted ally as justice minister, adding to woes that include a tepid economy, a trade war with Japan, and North Korea snubbing his overtures for talks.

A regular tracking survey from Gallup Korea released on Friday (Sept 20) showed Mr Moon's rating at 40 per cent, a drop from 43 per cent two weeks ago.

Respondents cited "personnel appointment issues" as a major reason for what they saw as shortcomings.

The disapproval rate for Mr Moon's government hit a record high of 53 per cent, the poll showed.

The numbers are worrying for the progressive Mr Moon, who is about midway through his term and facing national elections for Parliament in April.

South Korea's democratically elected presidents typically see a slide in support as they head into the second half of their single five-year term because they are perceived to be lame ducks.

Mr Moon's appointment of Mr Cho Kuk on Sept 9 touched a nerve with many as they questioned why a person who, along with his family, was being probed for financial irregularities should lead the ministry currently investigating him.

Protests also spread to university campuses, with students angered about reports that Mr Cho may have used his influence to help his daughter win admission to a prestigious college.

"It is seen that the appointment of Justice Minister Cho Kuk is the main reason behind the approval and disapproval ratings," Gallup Korea said in a statement.

Mr Cho has denied any wrongdoing, and Mr Moon has stood by the side of the person he named to reform the ministry.

The conservative political opposition has become emboldened by the Cho appointment, and gained attention by having some of its lawmakers shave their heads - a form of political protest in the country.

Mr Moon, who came to office with calls to increase employment and cut into income inequality, has presided over an economy forecast to expand this year at the weakest pace in a decade.

Exports - a key pillar of the Korean economy - have fallen for nine straight months, and hurt corporate investment and hiring.

Adding to the woes, Japan - a key supplier of materials and components - recently removed South Korea from its list of trusted trading partners.

It restricted exports on specialist materials that are vital for South Korea's giant semiconductor and display industries.

Mr Moon has also staked a great deal of political capital on rapprochement with North Korea, only to see Pyongyang rebuff most of his calls this year for talks.

North Korea has fired a new ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in South Korea, and labelled the Moon government a "meddlesome mediator" who's hindering leader Kim Jong Un's dealings with US President Donald Trump.

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