[Outlook]The president must follow the rulesThe National Election Commission decided Thursday that the president violated Article 9 in the election law, which states that a public official must remain neutral, when he condemned what he called the illegitimacy of the Grand National Party’s rule and said that their candidates were not qualified to be president.
The next day, the Roh Moo-hyun said he should not have to comply with that election law, calling it hypocritical. He said the law violates the Constitution, because its reasons for demanding neutrality are not clear-cut.
President Roh seems to believe he is innocent.
In a special lecture on Thursday, he argued that he was just making a counter-argument to the political campaigns of the Grand National Party and that the media are against him.
According to his perspective, it is wrong to restrict a president’s political activities due to ambiguous rules.
So, was the president right?
The issue gets much clearer when we analyze the president’s constitutional status.
For one, the president is a member of a political party.
The Constitution, as well as other laws, allow the president to conduct political actions as a member of his party.
Indeed, it is better for a president to hold a membership in a party with accredited rules and policies, considering the nature of party politics in a democracy.
Accordingly, as a party member, the president should get the ideas from the party and use his political authority to help make them happen for the sake of the people who voted for him and his party.
In that sense, the president should be participating in political activities.
In the meantime, however, the president should always remember that he represents the Republic of Korea and its people.
In a pluralistic society in which various interests conflict, the president has the responsibility to set the agenda for the development of the entire nation, and to unite conflicting interests and groups instead of representing the interests of a particular group or class.
Every act of the president is monitored and criticized by the citizens and the media ― not because of one’s personal feelings about the president, but because of the outlook of the nation’s development and the future of its citizens.
This is where the president’s political freedom must stop. It cannot and should not be allowed to go any further.
Another important position of the president is that of the head of the administration.
In accordance with the principle of checks and balances, the president commands the government administration which implements and takes responsibility for the policies legislated by the parliament.
Electoral law requires public officials to be neutral in elections. That’s because the public can lose confidence in the fairness of the elections when the head of a government administration takes a stand in favor of a candidate or party.
The end result is that the democratic rule of law gets lost.
The decision of the Constitutional Court and the National Election Commission, which says the president is a government official with obligations to be neutral in the election, is reasonable.
That’s because the absolute status of the president as head of general government administration cannot be ignored.
In addition, the bitter lessons of the corrupt March 15 elections should also be remembered.
The president must be well aware of these as a lawyer himself.
Moreover, he publicly vowed at his inauguration to abide by the Constitution and to protect the nation.
It is important to continue one’s political line, but it is also important to guide the direction of policies for the future.
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the June 10 democracy uprising. It was the day everyone spoke up to drive away the authoritarian dictatorship and institute a democratic rule of law.
The democratic rule of law becomes possible when a person accepts the ideas of the majority ― even though he may disagree with it ― and respects the authority of legal process.
By complying with the country’s due process, the commander in chief also gains respect.
*The writer is a professor of law at Sungkyunkwan University.
by Kim Hyung-Sung
More in Columns
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?
Fighting Chinese patriotism
The curse of the presidency