[OUTLOOK]An impeachment retrospective

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[OUTLOOK]An impeachment retrospective

A legal motion for the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun was proposed on March 9 last year at the National Assembly. Three days later, on March 12 at 11:55 a.m., then-National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong banged the gavel to officially pass the motion. It was the first time ever a president had been impeached by the National Assembly.
The former speaker of the National Assembly, Park Kwan-yong, who put in action the speaker’s right to maintain order in the Assembly, made sure to bang the gavel three times to announce that the presidential impeachment was proposed and passed the Assembly. He has published a book called, “I Would Hold the Gavel for Another Impeachment.”
The title appears to reflect Mr. Park’s personal belief that, even looking back on the event now, the proposition and passing of the impeachment motion at the Assembly a year ago was raised and deliberated according to the appropriate legal procedure of the Assembly; that it was a constitutional affair of which there was nothing to be ashamed of, even if we reflect on it now; and that it was a historic event with distinct meaning, although it was a bitter and difficult experience.
The presidential impeachment was proposed for the first time in the history of our Constitution, and its after effects were massive. However, today, after one year, we have all forgotten about the impeachment as if it were something that happened ages ago. Actually, we are avoiding the subject on purpose. Nowadays, numerous news stories pour out each day, but there is not one about the impeachment. Considering the tremendous amount of unanswered questions and the aftermath it has left to us; this is very surprising.
It seems appropriate for us to cool headedly think back now why it happened and what it has left to us with, as one year has passed since then. Yet everyone’s mouths are shut. It is as if we have been gagged. Psychologically gagged, that is.
Impeaching the president was first raised by the opposition because of suspicions of the president’s intervention in the elections. As the Constitutional Court pointed out, the president clearly broke the law. However, what actually made the impeachment possible was the fact that the emotional reservoir of the people who did not want President Roh as their president, was overflowing. Of course that reservoir is not dry even now, and it will probably remain that way until the end of the president’s term in office.
Therefore, the impeachment of one year ago did go through all the legal proceedings, but emotional factors also played a big part in the whole incident. Violation of the elections law provided a cause for the impeachment, but the actual incentive for the impeachment lay elsewhere. In an effort to explain and clarify his brother’s innocence, the president rambled on about many things at a nationally televised press conference. But he ended up criticizing a late businessman, Nam Sang-kook. It was the sympathetic opinion of many Korean households at the time that his words of criticism contributed to Mr. Nam’s suicide in the Han River.
The opposition lawmakers who proposed the impeachment might have intended only to soak the president knee-deep. However, Mr. Nam’s suicide became such an emotional fuse that was connected to the people’s feeling that their patience ran out. History is the combination of coincidence and fate. Once it leans to one side, it is hard to put upright again.
The passing of the impeachment motion at National Assembly brought with it a stormy aftermath. I think that the people’s emotions, that no matter how bad a president is, it would be better to have one stay in place than to worry about unpredictable obscurity created by the absence of a president, started to take over matters. In the blink of an eye, a dichotomy of being for the impeachment is evil and being against is good was made. Owing to this dichotomy, the Uri Party won a landslide victory at the 17th general election.
The impeachment was a political firestorm. However, the president, who was reinstated by the Constitutional Court, did not work on rebuilding ruins, but rather continued to struggle with so-called reform legislation such as investigating past history or the abolition of the national security law.
What people wanted was to live in peace and comfort, but the president went in a totally different direction. It was natural that a storm started in the minds of the people again.
Nobody can predict which direction the currents of the sea called “people” will flow. President Roh expressed his state of mind after accepting the resignation of former Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hun-jai, by saying, “I feel like I have just sent away a general in the wave of public opinion that came like a tidal wave.” After all, the president is also a small boat floating on the sea called the “people.” That is why he should be afraid of them.
The impeachment has become forgotten history. However, we need to remember the words that former speaker of the National Assembly Park Kwan-yong left when he banged the gavel to announce the passage of the impeachment: “After all, history moves forward.” Yes, the Republic of Korea has to move forward again. Just once, let us stop fighting small fights, but move forward in big steps. Please!

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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