[Viewpoint]Respect the Constitution, Mr. PresidentI was on the streets in June 1987, exactly 20 years ago. I ran about shouting slogans in front of Seoul City Hall and the main office building of the Bank of Korea and mixed with crowds of demonstrators, strangers whose names and faces I did not know.
At the time, I was hardly in a position to do so. I had returned to college as a senior after having been conscripted for being involved in the democracy movement, and sent to a military camp to receive education for a “reformation of thoughts.” I was preparing to take qualifying exams for a job in the press, where my past involvement in the democratization movement was not an issue. I should have been in the library or the classroom, not the streets.
But I went to the streets whenever I had free time. At the time, all the people on the streets cried slogans until their voices got hoarse: “Abolish the current Constitution and overthrow the dictatorship!”
What we wanted in the democracy movement in June 1987 was to revise the Constitution. More to the point, we wanted to revise the Constitution so the people could choose the president in direct elections, not in indirect elections in a gymnasium. The citizens won. The military regime lost. And this was how the present Constitution came to be.
Until then, the Constitution of the Republic of Korea enacted on July 12, 1947 had been a patchwork. It had been revised as many as eight times. Past presidents ― who were really dictators ― changed it as they pleased. No constitution lasted 10 years. The Constitution of 1987 was different because it was legislated following a tug of war by lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties. The Constitution was remade so that it could not be revised capriciously. Since then, 20 years have slipped by. Even this thought makes our hearts overflow with pride about the Constitution.
President Roh Moo-hyun gave that Constitution a “slap in the face” on June 2, in a lecture to the evaluation forum of the so-called participatory government that lasted more than four hours.
Frankly, we don’t care much whether in that event resembling a religious gathering, President Roh did a “one-man show,” as Democratic Party spokesperson Yoo Jong-pil put it, or he acted out of “narcissism or delusions” as Grand National Party chairman Kang Jae-sup said. This was not the only occasion the president acted so nor are there many days left for him to display such behavior.
We are upset to hear his derisive remarks, such as “Gee, I want to have discussions, but this is banned in that damned Constitution . . . “
Did he actually say that? How can he criticize the Constitution when so many people shed their blood to have this Constitution at the cost their youth and lives? Did he forget the fact that he is the protector of the Constitution as he took an oath at his inauguration: “I will be the protector of the Constitution?” Is it burdensome to protect the Consti-tution? Then he should resign quickly from the presidency.
Speaking of the Constitution, he is right. It is all because of “that damned Constitution.” Because of Article 70 (defining the term of the president) of “that damned Constitution,” we tolerate a president with a support rate of 20 percent who makes remarks at every opportunity that divide the people, damage the dignity of the presidency and rebuke opposition leaders. Because of Article 84 of “that damned Constitution” that prohibits prosecution of the president during his term in office, we cannot prosecute him for a criminal offense even if he pours out remarks that seem to violate the election law. Because of Article 4 of the Constitution, he is also granted authority to spend taxpayers’ money freely on integrating media briefing rooms in government departments with less than 10 months left in his term. From where I look, those who may be wanting to say “that damned Constitution” are the people, not the president.
Nevertheless, we would like to say to the president that “that damned Constitution” should be protected, that the Constitution embodies our history and the will of the people. The Constitution should not be treated, as the saying goes, “When good cheer is lacking, our friends will be packing.”
President Roh has referred to himself as a “world-class president.” Many people may have been dumbfounded by that. But it is true that he was a democratic fighter. He too may know well how he made strenuous efforts to achieve the democratic Constitution in 1987.
We’d like to believe that his remarks disparaging the Con-stitution were a slip of the tongue. We’d like to think that he said so, enraptured with the applause and cheers of the audience that he hasn’t heard in a long time.
It is fine whatever he thinks of the Constitution in his heart. But “that damned Constitution” are not words that the president should use. Not only the president, but also anyone among the people of the Republic of Korea should not insult the Constitution.
We urge President Roh to make an apology and explanation.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk