[VIEWPOINT]Violating laws is illegal, period“Any law which violates the indefeasible rights of man is in essence unjust and tyrannical; it is no law.” ― Maximilien Robespierre, French revolutionary
Korea’s election laws are the source of social, political and constitutional controversies. The president is impeached on charges of violating the law, the leaders of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union and the Korean Government Employees Union are either arrested or indicted, and arrest warrants of other leaders are sought by the police.
Violent demonstrations and rallies protesting the government’s decision to outlaw the two unions’ participation in political activities are staged almost every day, defying the laws banning political rallies during the election campaign period.
At a televised press conference with journalists from broadcasters on Feb. 24, President Roh Moo-hyun said, “I want to do all I can do within legal boundaries to help Our Open Party win votes.” The Millennium Democratic Party asked the National Election Commission to judge whether the president broke the law by openly backing a specific political party.
After more than six hours of debate, the commission decided that President Roh violated Article 9 of the election law that stipulates that a public servant must remain politically neutral.
Mr. Roh, however, said he would participate in campaign activities. And the Blue House argued that the president’s right [to participate in politics] must be protected and that the president can make public his political opinions.
As if following the example of the president, civil servants declared that they too would defy the law by announcing their support to the Democratic Labor Party in the April elections. Against acting President Goh Kun’s warning that the government would punish them, they said, “Give whatever warning you wish. Still, we will violate the law.”
The teachers of elementary and secondary schools joined the civil servants, announcing their support of the Democratic Labor Party and issued a statement denouncing the National Assembly’s impeachment of President Roh.
“The union, by getting signatures of its members on the petition, violated Article 93 and 107 of the election law,” the election watchdog said. But Won Yong-man, the union head, argued, “It is anti-democratic if public school teachers must stay silent just because they are employed by the government.”
There is a common ground in the assertions of Mr. Roh, the teachers and the government employees. They think that the laws banning political activities of the president, government employees and teachers are not right, because these laws infringe on their basic human rights. And they think that there is nothing wrong, even if they violate the law that is not right. People can think that their freedom or rights are limited or violated by certain legal provisions. But not all people think that the law is not right. It is rare that people think they can break the law because it is not right.
Then why do the members of the government employees’ and teachers’ unions as well as President Roh think that they can defy the law just like that? It is unthinkable under normal circumstances.
But when a political realignment is in the making, through a revolution or reform forced by power, revolutionaries or reformers will consider old laws made under the old regime as shackles that restrain reform.
Maximilien Robespierre, a French revolutionary and leader of the Jacobin Reign of Terror, was popular as an enemy of the monarch and as an advocate of democratic reforms. He was supported by the Commune of Paris, radical supporters of the revolution.
He ruthlessly eliminated all whom he considered to be enemies of the revolution. He said, “Any law which violates the indefeasible rights of man is in essence unjust and tyrannical; it is no law.”
I wonder whether the leaders of the government employees’ and the teachers’ unions consider themselves revolutionaries and the elections laws as “unjust and tyrannical” shackles of the old regime. In any case, they have sent a petition to the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the election laws.
* The writer is the opinion page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo