[EDITORIALS]No excuse for Roh’s pardonsThe government is said to be planning yet another special widescale pardon and reinstatement to celebrate Independence Day in Korea next month. It has been only one year since special amnesty was granted in 4,220,000 cases last year, an unthinkable number for any country with a constitution-based, functioning legal system. The rule of law could not possibly be toyed with so blatantly, if not for our unsound legal system and judiciary.
The general consensus among legal scholars is that the constitution contains instrinsic limitations on presidential clemency. If such limitations did not exist, there would be no reason to differentiate between regular pardons and special pardons, nor would the very basis of our constitution, the separation of powers, maintain validity.
Prior to his election, President Roh Moo-hyun promised a scrupulous implementation of the presidential authority to grant amnesty. What he now needs to avoid is “self-amnesty,” that is, pardoning his own faults and granting indulgences to those close to him. Even former President Kim Young-sam did not dare pardon his own son. This government, however, has shown the baldfaced audacity to grant presidential amnesty to loyal supporters implicated on campaign fund-related charges.
This time, explicit rumors of the pardon and subsequent reinstatement of Ahn Hee-jung, Choi Do-sool and Yeo Taek-soo - all former campaigners for President Roh and the Uri Party who had been found guilty of illicit fundraising schemes - have been widely circulating. Uri Party spokesman Woo Sang-ho has stated that they were “not guilty of individual crimes,” but simply “politicians who fell victim to obsolete political practices.” If that were the case, it would make sense to redeem them by modifying existing legislation or by creating a new law altogether. The concept of constitutionalism is of no use if, despite stringent laws, the president simply uses his authority to grant clemency to those closest to him. Among the 90 pardons issued since the founding of this country, 83 were special pardons, which do not require the approval of the National Assembly.
With millions of people granted clemency through those “special pardons,” the term “special” has lost all significant meaning. Evidently, to the government, “special” means that the president can do whatever he wants. We cannot allow this arbitrary exercise of presidential pardon to continue. We must protect the rule of law, even if it means the law must be changed.