Blessings in disguiseThe steadiness behind a constant smile was impressive. The legacy of her father Park Chung Hee, whose long-term rule brought about the rags-to-riches miracle that Korea is famous for, put a halo above her. Her tragic family history of losing both parents to assassins made her a politician. But the good Park Geun-hye story ends there. From then on, everything was a lie. Voters regret electing an utterly deceitful leader with something like a hollow core.
Human beings are born with the need to tame the disorder of nature. They developed instruments to protect their lives from outside attacks.
They yielded some natural rights to laws and systems and established governing institutions.
That is what a state stands for. Upon awakening to the concept of a free state, people claim ownership of the state. They elect a leader to run the state. The 18th president of South Korea has failed in that role and her duties. President Park Geun-hye took the oath, “I pledge before the people to abide by the Constitution, defend the state… and faithfully act out the duties of the presidential title” as stipulated in the 69th article of the Constitution.
She has not, however, abided by the Constitution nor been faithful to her duty. She decanted her authority to a friend Choi Soon-sil and her inner circle. People are amazed and appalled to discover she placed their livelihoods, safety, and security in the hands of a puppet for the last four years. The thought is horrifying.
Public outrage built up to masses carrying candles and, last Saturday, actual torches. Over the last six Saturdays, 6.41 million people went into the streets to demonstrate their fury. The shadows were exposed by the incandescense of their flames and their determination to bring about change. Then a dramatic transition took place. The flames lit up an awareness that Park Geun-hye’s crisis could be a blessing in disguise for Korean democracy.
It could finally start a process of rooting out the deeply-rooted practive of collusion between the public and corporate sectors. Presidential power prevailed over the law. That was how the president and her followers were able to collect money from large companies in a kind of medieval tribute. Park used her elected power to intimidate business leaders. Companies must share some responsibility. They complain they are the victims. But they cannot be free from the suspicion that they in some way would have been rewarded for their tributes to the queen. It is time to finally sever the nasty connections between the public and business sectors.
There is also the opportunity to restore the public sector. Serving in the presidential office was a step up. For bureaucrats, politicians and even scholars, service in the senior presidential secretariat could eventually give them a place in the cabinet. In that situation, it was folly to refuse orders from the boss.
According to Clause 1, Article 7 of the Constitution, a public servant’s duty is to serve the people. But Park’s presidential secretaries felt themselves above the law. Ahn Chong-bum, a scholar who served as the senior secretary for economy and later policy coordination, merely served the president, not the people. Choi Sang-mok, a presidential secretary for economic and financial affairs and now a vice finance minister, didn’t do his duty either. He made a list of companies that agreed to donate to the two foundations created by presidential friend Choi Soon-sil — the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations — and handed the names to the Federation of Korean Industries to make the collection. Elite bureaucrats should no longer be used as instruments undermining the Constitution. The political neutrality of public officials is protected by the Constitution. Public officials now can say no to illegal and unjust orders. They have become free to truly serve the people.
The third benefit is restoration of law and order. This scandal reaffirms that everyone is equal before the law. The president is no exception. The dogma that the people can overthrow a government that violates legal justice was established in the 18th century.
Mencius, the ancient Chinese sage, said water (the people) can not only maintain a ship (a ruler), but can also sink it.
Not all the choices made in elected representative democracies are good. A person who lacks ability can become a leader. But people can kick out a leader according to the law. The National Assembly will push for the impeachment of the president as authorized by the Constitution. We are writing a new history of displacing a president we have put in power with our votes.
Last, we have come to a re-enlightenment that power comes from the people. Sovereignty over the Republic of Korea belongs to the people as defined in Clause 2 or the first Article in the Constitution. We have had leaders who used the armed forces to rule the country, and leaders who were chosen in free elections. Some of those leaders acted like monarchs. But the people in a democracy are not subordinates. They have the ultimate authority to choose and discharge their leader. The people are the primary source of government power. Light was shed upon that value through the thousands of candles at our vigils.
We are making a historic voyage in unchartered waters. There is a lot to be done. Even if the impeachment motion passes the legislative, it must be upheld by the Constitutional Court. We must tend to the candles in our hearts until we are seen through this ordeal.
What is important is what we make of this country after this president is history. We must not be satisfied with a few crumbs of blessings in disguise. We must not end in congratulating ourselves for kicking out one leader gone wrong. We must sharpen our judgment to select a reliable and good leader the next time. Our final destination is still a distance away.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 28
*The author is the business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.