Pardon with prudenceIn his radio address yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak revealed his plan to grant presidential pardons to around 1.5 million people convicted of committing petty crimes on Aug. 15, Liberation Day. Most of the people to be pardoned are farmers, fishermen or the self-employed who committed petty crimes related to their work, especially those whose driver’s licenses were suspended or revoked. The Blue House is also reported to be considering pardons for first-time offenders convicted of drunk driving.
Millions of pardons have been granted by previous presidents, especially on the anniversaries of their inaugurations or on national holidays. The practice of granting pardons to people in the working class was aimed at solidifying their support base and encouraging unity.
Former President Kim Young-sam issued one round of pardons, former President Kim Dae-jung issued two rounds and former President Roh Moo-hyun issued one round.
This is the second time the incumbent administration has issued a series of pardons. The first was a round of pardons issued to celebrate Lee’s 100th day in office.
Since a majority of the people who violated traffic laws or were convicted of other petty crimes are members of the working class, granting them a pardon is sure to be helpful. Amid an economic crisis like the one we are going through now, punishments such as a driver’s license suspension put undue constraints on their lives and finances to some extent.
However, it must not be forgotten that a special pardon is in essence a discriminatory measure. While many people try to abide by the law, granting a pardon now and then to those who violate the law is unfair.
If people start thinking that they can be pardoned even if they are punished, then the spirit of the law will be shaken. Therefore, the president’s power to grant pardons must be executed in a prudent and judicious manner to minimize the negative effects.
The president is the chief of the administration. His primary duty does not lie in granting pardons but in maintaining law and order. Having the president actively discuss the pardons could have an overall negative influence on law and order.
President Lee must have wanted to promote the idea that he was working hard to support the working class, but he must remember that law and order are more important than that.
The expression “in connection with work,” used in relation to the kinds of pardons issued, must be used discreetly as well. There is no clear-cut way to distinguish what is connected to work and what is not, and too many crimes might be tolerated or sanctioned as a result.