New legislation is put forth to set history straight
During the first two years of Kim Young-sam’s reign, I wasn’t happy with his dogmatic perspective on history. But I did credit him for his ability to react quickly and decisively when the time called for it.
Just 10 days after his inauguration, he moved swiftly to dismiss Army Chief of Staff Kim Jin-young and Defense Security Commander Suh Wan-soo - a move that no one had foreseen. The two generals were core members of a military clique known as the Hanahoi, founded by former President Chun Doo Hwan.
The military faction exploited its influence thanks to its connection with two former presidents and focused on promotions and its personal interests in the military. To put an end to this practice, the president called in the defense minister and notified him of Kim and Suh’s dismissals.
On March 11, 1993, I had my weekly meeting with Kim at the Blue House.
“Were you not surprised by what I did that day?” he asked. “Defense Minister Kwon Young-hae was dumbfounded when I told him to fire the generals. I called in their successors to the Blue House to officially appoint them for the positions and ordered them to take over complete control of their units. It was directly intending to strangle the Hanahoi and bar it from backlash.”
It took him four hours and five minutes from the moment he told Kwon of his decision to issue formal appointments, he pointed out. In less than a month, he also successfully ousted and replaced a line of other military officials in the Hanahoi faction.
Chun Doo Hwan’s biggest fault was that he had placed his supporters inside the military to win undue favor in the name of solidarity with the Hanahoi. But a faction like that inside the military spurs internal divisions and hampers solidarity among members of the organization.
As Hanahoi members benefitted, the unity within the military eroded.
But to this end, Kim should be credited with once and for all eradicating Chun Doo Hwan’s notorious bloc. Not only did he dissolve the Hanahoi, he sent Chun and Roh Tae-woo to prison for the coup they orchestrated against the state on Dec. 12, 1979, which effectively put an end to the power struggle inside the military.
Looking back, ridding the political sphere of such detrimental elements wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Kim Young-sam. His leadership and judgment style was straightforward and instinctive.
His archrival Kim Dae-jung, on the other hand, was more calculated and contemplative when it came to making policy decisions. Many said the former had more intuitive political skills while the latter was better at producing political outcomes to his advantage.
I believe that assessment is correct.
Kim Young-sam was always resolute in pushing for his objectives against all odds. In that sense, he was able to put two former statesmen before judges in blue prisoner uniforms, a historic scene broadcast all around the world. If Kim Dae-jung had been in power at that time, the outcome may have been entirely different.
When Chun and Roh were imprisoned, I was the chairman of the minority opposition United Liberal Democrats. Roh was detained in November 1995 after he was implicated in a bribery scandal and Chun was put in jail on charges of insurrection under martial law for his leading role in the 1979 coup.
Heeding rising public demand that the two be held legally accountable, Kim submitted a special bill in regard to the Gwangju Uprising on May 18, 1980, and the 1979 military coup. The Special Act on the Gwangju Democratization Movement allowed the two to still be prosecuted, suspending the statute of limitations for the charges against them.
“From now on even a coup that succeeds in taking over power will be subject to legal punishment,” Kim proclaimed after the act’s passage. “No one will dare to usurp power by force on this land anymore.”
Chun was sentenced to life imprisonment and 220.5 billion won in fines, while Roh was sentenced to 17 years in prison and ordered to pay 262.8 billion won.
[Kim pardoned both men on Dec. 22, 1997, after they had served about two years in prison.]
Their convictions were inevitable. But at the time, I was against Gwangju Act on the grounds that it was applying retroactive legislation, which I found unconstitutional.
I also objected it to because it meant other national leaders could have potentially resorted to applying laws retroactively whenever there was public demand for it, which would weaken the rule of law.
“The Special Act on Gwangju Democratization Movement is the classic of populist legislation. … I object to any enactment of laws that aim for retroactive application,” I declared.
But as Kim pushed for the Gwangju Act to be passed, the political circle found itself consumed by bribery allegations.
Former President Roh was alleged to have amassed 400 billion won in slush funds, and opposition leader Kim Dae-jung was accusing Kim Young-sam of having spent more than 1 trillion won on his presidential campaign, most of which had come from Roh’s reserves.
To apply further pressure on Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung admitted that even he had received 2 billion won from Roh for his campaign.
In the face of snowballing allegations, the president kept silent. Instead, he came up with the Gwangju Act to deflect the criticism and use it to his advantage.
“The coup should never be justified or tolerated and we must not repeat this past misfortune,” Kim said in his address to the nation. “I will enact the Gwangju Act to hold the people responsible for inflicting suffering and grief on the people accountable,” Kim said in his address to the nation.
As far as I know, Kim saw his own use of secret funds as simply a means to meet his personal agenda.
Common principles, he believed, should apply differently to different people.
Compiled by Chun Young-gi, Kang Jin-kyu [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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