Moon Jae-in is the 12th and current President of South Korea, in office since May 10, 2017. Prior to running for the presidency, he had served as the opposition leader of the Minjoo Party of Korea from 2015 to 2016. Before that, he had participated as the Democratic United Party's candidate in the 2012 presidential election which he narrowly lost. A lawyer by profession, he became acquainted with the future President, Roh Moo Hyun, over the course of his legal career and started working with him. Along with Roh, also a lawyer, Moon often took up cases involving human rights and civil rights issues. When Roh ran for presidency, Moon became his campaign manager. Upon his victory, Roh installed Moon as his chief of staff. Though initially indifferent to politics, Moon soon became heavily involved in the national political scenario and a few years later, he received the presidential nomination for the Democratic United Party for the 2012 presidential election. Even though he lost the election, he remained actively involved in politics. Following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in December 2016, Moon had been considered the frontrunner to win Korea's next presidential election. As a nominee of the Minjoo Party, Moon defeated Hong Jun-pyo of Liberty Korea and Ahn Cheol-soo of People’s Party in the election and assumed office as the President of South Korea on May 10, 2017.
Childhood & Early Life
Moon Jae-in was born on 24 January 1953 in Geoje, South Korea, to father Moon Yong-hyung and mother Kang Han-ok as the eldest of their five children. His father had arrived in South Korea as a refugee from South Hamgyeong Province (currently in North Korea) who fled his native city of Hamhung during the Hamhung Retreat.
Moon’s family eventually settled in Busan where he attended the Kyungnam High School. He was a good student who took a keen interest in human rights issues.
Following his schooling, he studied law at the Kyunghee University. Around this time he became involved in political activism and often staged student protests. He once organized a protest against the Yushin Constitution which led to his arrest and he was expelled from the university.
As a young man he was conscripted to the military. As a member of the Special Forces, he participated in a military mission during the Axe murder incident.
Following his discharge, he resumed his legal studies and passed the Bar Exam. He was then admitted to the Judicial Research and Training Institute from where he graduated with a high rank. However, he was not deemed eligible to become a judge or government prosecutor due to his history of student activism. Thus Moon chose to become a lawyer instead.
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An idealist at heart, Moon Jae-in started working as a human rights lawyer. Over the course of his legal career he became friends with another young lawyer, Roh Moo Hyun. The men often took up cases involving human rights and civil rights issues.
As a former student activist himself, he regularly defended students and labor activists persecuted under the military dictatorship. He was also a member of Minbyun and the Chairman of Human Rights at Busan Bar.
Over the years, Moon’s friend Roh became actively involved in politics. He decided to run for the presidency in 2002 and made Moon his campaign manager during his presidential bid. Roh eventually won.
Upon becoming the president, Roh made Moon his chief of staff and close aide. All this while Moon had been indifferent towards a political career but Roh’s victory changed that and Moon too became active on the political front.
Moon assumed several important roles under the Roh administration. From 2003 to 2004, he served as the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs, and from May 2004 to January 2005, he was the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Society, and once again, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs from January 2005 to May 2006. In August 2007, Moon was made the Chairperson of the Promotion of the 2nd North-South Korea Summit.
Over the ensuing years, Moon intensified his political involvements and earned a reputation for being pro-democratic and anti-corruption. In 2012, he won a seat in the Sasang District of Busan as a member of the Democratic United Party with 55% of the vote.
In September 2012, Moon became the Democratic United Party’s presidential nominee and ran for the 2012 presidential election against Park Geun-hye of the Liberty Korea Party and independent software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo. Moon ultimately lost the election while Park won.
Moon continued to be active on the political front and was elected as the leader of New Politics Alliance for Democracy (now known as the Minjoo Party of Korea) in February 2015. He served in this position for one year.
Meanwhile, the South Korean citizens were growing increasingly disillusioned with the presidency of Park Geun-hye. She was impeached by the National Assembly on charges related to a corruption scandal in December 2016. On 10 March 2017, the impeachment was upheld unanimously by the Constitutional Court and Park was forced out of the president’s office.
Following Park’s impeachment, South Korea had to hold a presidential election within 60 days. Moon ran for the office as the Minjoo Party of Korea's nominee in the 2017 presidential election. He emerged victorious in the election held on 9 May 2017 and was sworn in as the president on May 10.
As a former human rights lawyer, Moon Jae-in has gained much popularity for his pro-democracy stance. Having served under President Roh in a multitude of important positions like Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs, Chief Secretary of the President, and Chairperson of the Promotion of the 2nd North-South Korea Summit, Moon has been actively involved in eliminating official corruption and is much respected for his clean and untainted reputation.
Personal Life & Legacy
Moon Jae-in is married to Kim Jeong-suk. The couple has two children, a son, Moon Joon-yong, and a daughter, Moon Da-hye.