Yoon Suk-yeol was born in Seoul into what he called a middle class family. Both his parents were professors. Yoon went on to study at Seoul National University Law School. But he did not find it easy to pass the bar exam but finally passed it after 9 attempts.
After beginning his career in Daegu, it was a case in 2013 that put him in the public eye. Yoon led investigations into the National Intelligence Service over its involvement in a public opinion manipulation scandal during the 2012 presidential election. Despite opposition from his superiors, Yoon insisted on investigating going as far as accusing the Justice Minister of influencing his investigation.
"I have to keep going with my investigation, but there continues to be questions. If investigators feel it's not justifiable and unreasonable and excessive, then that's what they feel as "external pressure". Yoon was demoted for his disobedience. But this is when he became known as a "headstrong prosecutor" who doesn't give into power. He left his post with an iconic quote "I am not loyal to people."
Yoon made a dramatic return to Seoul perhaps thanks to that "headstrong" nature of his. He was appointed as the head of the special prosecutor team investigating the massive corruption scandal surrounding then-President Park Geun-hye which led to her impeachment. There was speculation that Yoon's involvement could be seen as political retaliation - related to his demotion. However Yoon denied this saying "using an investigation for retaliation is something a gangster would do, not a prosecutor."
Immediately after Moon Jae-in took office, Yoon was appointed as the head of the Seoul Supreme Prosecutors' Office. It was an unprecedented appointment with Yoon taking the role ahead of his superiors. In 2019, Yoon even became the Prosecutor General.
But Yoon's unbreakable will brought him the opposite result this time. His investigation of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk's family prompted a feud with the government and the ruling Democratic Party. Things reached a peak following the appointment of former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who ordered Yoon be temporarily suspended. Eventually, Yoon resigned as Prosecutor General leaving a few months before the end of his term.
"It's hard for me to watch our society's long-established common sense and justice collapse anymore. However, I will continue to do my best to protect liberal democracy and the people no matter where I am."
Following his resignation, Yoon immediately emerged as a presidential candidate. Yoon topped approval ratings for potential presidential candidates on the back of growing public disappointment with the government over skyrocketing housing prices. Just 117 days after his resignation, Yoon declared his presidential bid. He stood on the opposite side of the DP and joined the People Power Party.
Yoon had no political experience or any roots in the PPP. But he won the primary, defeating the runner up in the 2017 presidential election Hong Joon-pyo. In his acceptance speech, Yoon vowed for a change of government. "We must judge this tedious corrupt and incompetent government. We must replace this disgusting and hypocritical government." This was Yoon's core message throughout his campaign, as he presented himself as the ultimate anti-DP warrior.
And his "common sense and fairness" was his key weapon in calling for people's support a reference to his final remarks on the day he resigned as Prosecutor General. There were times when his ratings briefly dipped due to his family scandals and internal problems within the party. But as the race came to its conclusion, he was running neck-and-neck with Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party.
And just 6 days before Election Day Yoon secured the extra push needed to win following a last minute campaign merger with Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party. "For the future of South Korea and the United People's Government, we both make a promise. I support candidate Yoon Suk-yeol." "I support the will of candidate Ahn Cheol-Soo to create a United People's Government and to make it a success together."
Throughout his career, Yoon Suk-yeol has turned crisis into opportunity. And now, eyes are on whether he can do the same, when leading the country.
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