[Viewpoint] Let’s stay rationalThe recently opened 19th National Assembly will consider expelling two controversial members of the Unified Progressive Party, Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon, who won proportional representative seats through an allegedly rigged primary in March. It plans to employ Article 138 of the National Assembly Law to kick out the newcomers by questioning their qualifications to serve.
Both the leadership of the ruling and main opposition Democratic United Party have agreed on the motion, which has also been cheered by the Saenuri Party’s assumed presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. But on closer study, they will realize that the grounds they are using to eject the representatives from their seats are too ambiguous and weak.
In the case of Lee Seok-gi, he is under fire for rigging votes in the primary to win his proportional representative place and, at the same time, is being questioned about his past pro-North Korean activities. The media has raised a hoopla over the scandalous irregularities that characterized the UPP primary. The party’s largest faction, a spinoff from a pro-North Korean student activist group, has been suspected of orchestrating rampant foul play to send its ringleader Lee to the legislature.
But no one has been able to back the allegations with conclusive proof. While the party’s internal committee that investigated the irregularities concluded the primary was more or less a scam, it could not pinpoint a culprit. No names were cited.
And it cannot be otherwise. The party cannot question anyone or examine their phone conversation or files without a warrant. It has no such authority. It is needless to say that outsiders have no grounds to interfere with an internal party affair. The National Assembly could find itself in a tight spot if the prosecution finds nothing after the expulsion of the two lawmakers.
If Lee and Kim lose their seats, their seats will be handed over to the next two nominees in waiting, Cho Yoon-sook and Hwang Seon, who are also being pressured to relinquish their candidacies because of the alleged fraud. The Assembly would have to kick them out as well. Cho, who is confined to a wheelchair, was a candidate to represent the disabled community. Her dismissal could spark a backlash.
Expelling a legislator on accusations that they support North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology is even more troublesome. Lee was an active member of an outlawed group, the National Democratic Revolutionary Party, which championed the ideology of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung. He served time and is now fully eligible to run in elections. He formerly registered with the National Election Commission and became a legislator through democratic procedures. He is still suspected of links to and having an affinity for North Korea. But nothing he has done so far has transgressed the legal boundary. The legislature cannot expel him solely on suspicions.
There are a handful of other legislators who are hardly in the position to question people’s qualifications. Park Jie-won, head of the DUP’s emergency committee, has the reputation of being the only past chief presidential secretaries to have served prison time for bribery. He is not someone to talk about qualifications to represent the public. The DUP’s Rep. Lee Hack-young went to prison after he attempted to rob the house of Choi Won-suk, chairman of Dong-Ah Construction, to raise money for an underground socialist group he led. He is also unworthy of a being a legislator. Saenuri Party Rep. Lee Jae-oh also served time for activities for Namminjeon, the National Liberation Front for South Korea, which revolted against America and the military regime and upheld North Korea’s juche ideology in late 1970s. Regardless of his conversion since, his past record does not go away. What about other lawmakers with suspicious ideas about North Korea in the extreme left-wing party?
We are appalled that people who bear secret fealty to North Korean principles and doctrine are in a legislature that makes crucial laws for their country. But whether we like it or not, we must accept these realities. Many of them would not have dreamt of running for a legislative seat if the Roh Moo-hyun government had not pardoned and restored their full civilian rights. The people elected liberal-minded Roh, and his government has paved the way to the legislature for those with the past of pro-North Korean activism. The similar onus is on the press and the opposition camp in general. The press should have scrutinized the candidates’ past and informed the public. The DUP protected the fledging UPP to form a strategic campaign coalition for the April legislative election. It is a cheap play to dump Lee and Kim in fear of losing public favor.
South Korean society abhors North Korean followers because of the irrational nature of the Pyongyang regime and their communist belief. It resents them because it wants to keep our free democracy system intact. But we should not resort to their irrational ways to triumph over anti-democracy forces. We must demonstrate our finer sensibility. That is why the legislature and society should exercise prudence in expelling Lee. Our sense of legality and fair play is much more valuable than one pro-North Korean follower.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin