|Hong Sai-hwa, author of the 1995 best-seller "I am a Paris-based Cab Driver" and columnist of the liberal newspaper Hankyoreh / Korea Times file|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Hong Sai-hwa, author of the 1995 best-seller "I am Paris-based Cab Driver" and columnist of the liberal newspaper Hankyoreh, is a critic from within the liberal camp. In his sharp-tongued style, Hong, 73, has written columns harshly criticizing President Moon Jae-in for his mismanagement of the economy, failure of policies to stabilize real estate and home prices, and worsening social policies among others.
His criticisms were also directed at President Moon's deputies and his fandom. He blamed loyal Moon supporters, widely known by the slang term "Moon-ppa" or "Moon fanatics" for having "spoiled" their leader and causing him to lose his sense of direction in major policy areas due to their unconditional support for the political leader, despite a slew of policy failures.
Hong's harsh criticism has pitted him against hardcore Moon supporters.
"It's true that I got a lot of negative comments from Moon supporters. But I don't care much about them," he told The Korea Times over the phone when asked if such negative reactions hurt him or ever discouraged him from writing columns critical of the president and his supporters. "I do a self-check because of their furious reactions… I don't read their comments on my columns because there's no point in their criticism. But they can't stop me from criticizing the Moon government because it has gone too far."
President Moon is a rare politician having a fandom. Due to his ardent supporters, he is often compared to the late former President Roh Moo-hyun who also had a solid fandom.
Hong said the two supporter groups are different, saying hard-core Moon supporters are unconvincing. "Those who supported Roh were relatively reasonable, but for Moon supporters, they tend to display only two extreme emotions ― love or hate. Once people judge others based on whether they like someone or not, there will be no truth or falsehood because their ability to reason will be paralyzed," he said. "Their overly emotional reactions only do a disservice to President Moon."
Hong said he himself was one of the Moon supporters who felt "insurmountable excitement" when Moon was elected president in May 2017 after his predecessor Park Geun-hye was ousted from presidency for corruption scandals involving her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil.
Having experienced the Moon government for four years, however, Hong expressed his standpoint about the liberal government has changed a lot.
He has lashed out at Moon several times in his columns. In his satirical piece, titled "Our President is a Good King" published in November last year, Hong sarcastically referred to Moon as a king, not president.
He accused President Moon of having failed to live up to his promises that he would avail himself to reach out to the public as much as possible to interact with them and heed their opinions.
Hong said Moon has instead become one of the most "distant" presidents. He noted Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun attended a total of 150 press briefings or news conferences during their tenures, President Lee Myung-bak attended 20 and Park Geun-hye five. The figure for Moon was only six, not so different from his predecessor, he wrote.
"Leaders will be pressured when they meet journalists or have to answer their questions. If they can make a choice and do only things they want to, they won't have such pressure," he wrote. "A king who ascends to power with absolute power will not want to take part in uncomfortable news conference or answer questions from the journalists. But this is not the case for a president who is elected by voters."
His king analogy has irritated President Moon supporters. Some say Hong should stop writing columns, go back to Paris and work as a cab driver as he used to. Hong, a former democracy fighter, lived in Paris for over two decades from the late 1970s after his asylum was granted. Then the Korean dissident drove a cab to make a living. He shared his experience and thoughts in his 1995 best-seller before eventually returning to South Korea in 2002 and years later serving as head of a now defunct minor progressive party.
Hong said what he said and wrote about President Moon is all aimed as constructive criticism because he wants the Moon government to be successful. "He's the president. So what he does has a far-reaching impact on the nation and the lives of the people. That's why I keep telling him to take his job seriously," he said.
He encouraged President Moon to look back at what he promised to do before he became the leader if he wants to discover what has gone wrong with his presidency.