Being a president and being popular at the same time seem like a tough, if not impossible, job in Korea. The approval rating for the current president here has nosedived in just a few months, from something like 90% to below 30%. Behind this is the whole beef controversy, for which he appologized through a televised conference, looking more serious than ever.
But certainly, he isn't the only president who the public has turned their back on so quickly. Actually, I can't think of a single president who was particulalry popular while in office.
The relationship between presidents and the public here is pretty strange. Roh Moo-hyun, the previous president, was probably one of the least popular presidents during his term, with an approval rating around 50% when he left office.
As the New York Times reported, he's a rock star now, with hundreds of people waiting outside his house in the countryside to see him upfront every day. Humbleness seems to be the reason why people are going crazy over him now, as he lives among ordinary people, unlike other former presidents who live in heavily guarded mansions. But when he was in office, not a day went by that he didn't get attacked by the press for whatever he tried to do, and as such, people blamed literally everything on him.
During Roh's administration, there was this nostalgia about Park Jung-hee, who was a brutal milatary dictator in the 1970s. People feared Park like the devil back in the days, but 30 years later, people are saying they miss his leadership which led the country out of proverty, as Korea's economic growth seems to be slowing down.
My theory is that the Koreans, as impatient as they are known to be, want quick answers to their problems from their leaders, and if there's no visible improvement in their lives, they get disappointed just as easily. And then they look back, as the old Korean saying goes, "old officials are good officials."
But often people forget they are the ones who picked those people as their leaders. Especially in case of current president, people had every reason not to vote him, given he was mired in shady scandals, but people still gave him a landslide victory. Hope people learned something this time around.