[Viewpoint]Yongsan is Lee’s call

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[Viewpoint]Yongsan is Lee’s call

We have to make a difficult decision. How should we handle Kim Seok-ki, the newly appointed National Police commissioner-general? Some argue that he cannot be held accountable for an incident that happened in the course of law enforcement. Others claim he has to take responsibility for the loss of lives.

One side stands by constitutionalism, and the other advocates the right people have to fight for their survival. Both arguments have reason.

However, the Blue House is reluctant to make a decision. It is waiting to see how the wind blows. It is problematic to leave the decision to prosecutors. After all, not many average citizens can distinguish prosecutors from the police. They are both government agencies enforcing national power, essentially brothers with the president able to appoint their heads.

It’s like a father who sits back and asks an older brother to judge the faults of the younger brother, saying he would follow the older son’s judgment. Even if the older brother rules the younger brother not guilty, people outside the household will not trust the decision. Waiting for such a judgment is not only a waste of time but also cowardly.

Two contradicting values are entangled in the Yongsan tragedy; constitutionalism and sympathy. For the sake of democracy, constitutionalism should be prioritized. However, the law must be fair to all.

If the law is not fairly enforced, citizens have a right to resist. The opposition party did not hesitate to brandish a hammer at the National Assembly because the bills that were to be passed were evil. Therefore, they branded the bills “MB’s evil laws.” They argue that it was O.K. to disobey bad laws, and they even justified the use of force to oppose them.

The Yongsan incident goes back to the unfair application of the law. Landlords and developers took all the profits, and tenants were driven to the street empty-handed. Therefore, they thought they had to defend their own interests, even if it meant using violence.

We all sympathize with their situation. Therefore, we need to start discussing ways to defend tenants’ rights and interests. Unfortunately, however, there’s nothing they can do at this point because the tenants don’t have any rights under the current legal system. Constitutionalism means abiding by the contract.

The Yongsan incident is especially problematic because it has already gone beyond the law. In a divided society, issues that should be handled by law are determined by ideology. Society is divided over the Yongsan incident.

In fact, Korean society was already divided. One side has been on the lookout for an opportunity to upset the country just as they did during the candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports. The other side is placing an advertisement in newspapers, lamenting the collapse of legalism.

In this country, people are divided over any issue. Compromise is not an option here. If you choose one side, you have to be prepared for harsh resistance. What would happen if candlelight vigils were staged again this coming spring?

The administration has to be worried. Therefore, the easiest choice is a solution that satisfies both sides by holding the commissioner-general responsible and reprimands and punishes the violent protesters as well.

The outcome of the incident will change the country’s future. It will be remembered as a watershed event in history.

Legalism and the right to resist are both necessary in a democratic country. However, one has to be the priority, and that changes over time.

In an autocracy, the right to resist comes first. That’s why former president Kim Dae-jung calls the Lee Myung-bak administration dictatorial rule. He is sending a message to the citizens to stand up against the government.

I believe that the present situation demands constitutionalism, not the right to resist. The Lee Myung-bak administration has made its share of mistakes, but if you ask anyone you meet overseas, no one will say the Republic of Korea is under autocratic rule.

What Korea lacks is not a resistant spirit but a constitutional culture. It is natural that we feel sympathetic to the poor and hopeless, but such an emotion cannot be pitted against the law.

If the commissioner-general is held accountable for this tragedy, it will have a long-term adverse effect on this country. From now on, the neck of the police commissioner-general will be in the hands of protesters.

So who should we trust with the charge of maintaining law and order? The Yongsan incident is not an issue on which the ruling and opposition parties can compromise.

If they compromise on such an issue, they are just cowards. Our principle is to respect the law. The president should not give the decision to prosecutors but show his firm resolve.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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