Keeping the faith no mean featLeading presidential hopefuls Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party have all pledged to overhaul the now-rudderless prosecution which has become riddled with power struggles, cases of corruption and sex scandals. Their reformist ideas touched on the way of appointing a prosecutor general, closing the pivotal central investigation bureau, sharing investigation authority with the police and ways to rein in corruption. They are all plausible, but what matters most is the incoming president’s resolve to keep the prosecution free from political influence.
Park and Moon both suggested eliminating the agency’s elite central investigation unit that has been handling politically sensitive cases for the last 30 years. Park said she will close down the department, which takes its orders directly from the prosecutor general to put an end to questions about the prosecution’s political neutrality. Moon said he will prevent the prosecution chief from getting directly involved in investigations so the prosecution is no longer used for political purposes.
Both candidates also promised full transparency in terms of appointing the prosecutor general. Moon even said recruiting an outside figure could be an option.
Abolishing the central investigation unit is inevitable if we are to have any prayer of normalizing the agency. It played a pivotal role in fighting corruption in the past, but in the process, it gained enormous power, leading to charges that it abused its investigative authority and acted unfairly. As the two candidates have proposed, the investigative authority should be more fairly apportioned, and appointments, investigations and indictments made more transparent.
But simply reorganizing the structure of the agency will not be enough to save the prosecution. Many senior prosecutors are guilty of abusing their power through political connections, but political forces also share the blame for meddling with investigations or interfering with appointments to serve their own ends. The reason behind the calls to shut down the central investigation unit is because it has often been used to strengthen political power and threaten rivals.
Park vowed not to wield her influence over the prosecution for her own purposes if elected, while Moon promised the presidential office would stop meddling with investigations into, and appointments of, the prosecution. But we may have to wait and see if they keep their promises after the votes have been cast. The reforms will be of no use if the prosecution does not restore its public role of serving the people.