Don’t use the veto, Mr. President

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Don’t use the veto, Mr. President

A thorny decision awaited President Lee Myung-bak when he returned from his overseas tour. By tomorrow, he must either approve or veto a bill to probe a suspicious deal involving his post-retirement residence. The National Assembly on Sept. 3 passed a bill to name a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation into the purchase of a plot of land in a posh southern Seoul neighborhood by the president’s son and the presidential security service to build a retirement home for Lee, a plan that was scrapped after it raised political and social controversy. The president must sign or veto the bill within 15 days after the legislation is introduced.

We advise against the president’s use of his veto power. The justice minister and some in the presidential office have been recommending Lee resist the motion. They claim the bill, which requires the president to choose one of two candidates to head the special investigation recommended by the main opposition Democratic United Party, raises questions of fairness. In short, they are saying they cannot trust someone appointed by the DUP, which first raised the question of the legality of the real estate project, to conduct a fair investigation. They recommend the president protest the unconstitutionality of the motion.

However, the purpose of the bill is to discover whether Lee, his son and the security office have abused their power or committed any other wrongdoings in purchasing the real estate.

In January 2008, Lee filed a suit with the Constitutional Court claiming the law delving into allegations of his involvement with a dubious company called BBK was unconstitutional because the law gave authority to the Supreme Court chief justice to name a special prosecutor to probe the case. The Constitutional Court upheld the legitimacy of the probe saying the legislature has the authority to decide on the need for a special prosecutor to contain the abuse of power. It ruled that the National Assembly has the power to name a special prosecutor whenever it deemed it necessary.

It is right for the president to respect the constitutional authority of the legislature, but the political sector cannot avoid criticism of pushing for an investigation into an outgoing president for self-serving purposes. The opposition wants to fan anti-Lee Myung-bak sentiment, while the ruling party goes along to keep its distance from an unpopular president before the December presidential election. If the president does not veto the bill, it is a proper course for the DUP to surrender its right to name the chief of the investigation to another credible institution like the Korean Bar Association.

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