[INSIGHT]Bury the past mistakesA week has passed since the National Assembly election. At the moment, two noteworthy events are in progress. One is the ongoing crisis of the impeachment and another is the prosecution’s sudden proposal to investigate illegal use of campaign funds by each party in the last presidential election. The prosecutors have reportedly already decided to summon a few Grand National Party lawmakers on charges of misappropriation of the election funds.
The impeachment of the president is currently in the hands of the Constitutional Court, so the nation has to await its judgment. As for the illegal campaign funds, unbiased investigations that apply the same standards to both the ruling and opposition parties is the principle and the law. But does the impeachment case, which originated from a political rivalry, really have to be concluded by the ruling of the Constitutional Court? Do we lack the political power needed to avoid that? The investigation into the presidential election campaign has left politics in a complete chaos. Is it right for the prosecutors to stir up the new political lineup that the voters recently chose?
It is hard to predict when the Constitutional Court will produce a ruling. The virtual vacancy of the presidency has been going on for 43 days already. We need to minimize that absence as much as possible and promptly create renewed politics and administration after the National Assembly election.
I think we need to take a look at “apology of the president first, withdrawal of the impeachment later,” a proposal by Kwon Young-ghil, leader of the Democratic Labor Party. The prosecutors have probed who had provided illegal campaign funds to political parties. Now they might feel the need to find out how the illegally collected funds were used.
But in today’s reality, we should be able to say goodbye to the regrettable past now that we have completed the spring-cleaning of the era. Those who donated and received a truckload of cash have been punished in the name of the citizens. If the future investigation focuses on the opposition Grand National Party, how can the prosecutors avoid criticism that the probe is politically inspired?
We might be obsessed with the legal ideal and might have been hypocritically denying political reality. It is possible for a president to be impeached. I am not criticizing the “law-for-law’s sake” approach that we need to wait for the decision of the Constitutional Court, since the matter has been handled according to the law. But 70 percent of the citizens think the impeachment was not appropriate, and the National Assembly election result proved the point. From the beginning, the impeachment did not begin as a legal idea but as a political attack. If it is possible to resolve the crisis with a political solution before the legal one, we should not look away, but actively accept it. Moreover, President Roh Moo-hyun should have an opportunity to think over his behavior cool-headedly, because there is a sense that he provoked the sentiments of the opposition and the public.
Again, politics is a work of coexistence and harmony. The “apology first, withdrawal later” compromise could become the first step to open an era of politics of coexistence. The court ruling on the impeachment will not benefit the president, the ruling party, the opposition or the citizens.
The precedent of U.S. President Bill Clinton has shown that an unreasonable impeachment leaves everyone a loser. In our case, we are in a dilemma over legality and popular will. We cannot follow or ignore either one. Fierce confrontation over the impeachment could be repeated over the decision of the Constitutional Court.
Do we have to go through this chaos and conflict? It would be disastrous if the court approved the impeachment. But even if the court turns it down, the president would be left injured. He would remain president, but the wounds from the painful trial would remain deep. If the impeachment is upheld, does it mean a victory for the opposition party? In that case, the disparity between public sentiment and the judgment would bring the nation into catastrophic chaos. But if the court finds the impeachment unconstitutional, the already reduced opposition would be shot again.
The president is ultimately responsible for putting the nation into the dilemma of impeachment, a political trial. Whether the chief executive intended to or not, it is his fault that he let the situation go to the verge of collapse.
Even if he were not impeached, he would always be haunted by his original sin. Therefore, the president must apologize to the nation first and open a window for the National Assembly to resolve the situation politically.
The scandals of truckloads of illegal campaign funds should be left as bygones. The president should make a declaration of grand conciliation by pardoning the past and opening a new era of harmony. It is uncertain whether the outgoing National Assembly will withdraw the impeachment bill in its remaining term. But the impeachment crisis is that Assembly’s responsibility as well.
Every other year, American and non-American golf players play a tournament. In last year’s match, the non-American player Ernie Els and the American player Tiger Woods went to a third playoff hole in the last round. As darkness gathered, the players and organizers discussed whether to resume the game the next day or call it a tie. The American captain, Jack Nicklaus, and international captain, Gary Player, reached a gentlemen’s decision. The game was a tie and the two sides shared the trophy.
Even after sunset, there is a long way to go. We cannot forever stay on the side of politics of conflict rather than coexistence.
* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin