The conservatives’ question

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The conservatives’ question

As we had all expected, Choi Soon-sil denied all the allegations against her on the first day of pretrial at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday. Park Geun-hye, too, denied all the charges against her in a written response to the Constitutional Court last Friday. In their impeachment motion, the National Assembly accused her of five counts of constitutional violations and eight counts of criminal law violations. But Park claimed they were not true.

Choi and Park should not be condemned for preparing counter-arguments. Everyone has the right to protect themselves in trial.
Before appearing at the prosecution’s investigation, Choi said, “I have committed a sin that deserves death.”

But it was an attempt to appease public criticism. It does not mean she gave up her legal rights. Choi exercised her rights even when Park called her a member of her “kitchen cabinet” and claimed that Choi’s involvement in state affairs was less than 1 percent.

Choi did what anyone would during a trial. Since Choi holds no official position, no one can argue against Choi’s defense. But it is different for Park.

She is a political leader, the prsident that voters chose. Protecting her personal safety is not a priority. She must care about the future of the nation. Some people expect her to care about the nation over herself, protect the right wing and assure her supporters.
Protests have continued every weekend. The rallies have shrunk slightly since the impeachment, but counter-demonstrations are also increasing. Last week, the police estimated that 33,000 people participated. The truth of Choi’s involvement in state affairs has been buried amid the confrontation.

The pro-Park faction has united again. They have already forgotten the pledges they made to take responsibility for the wrongdoings. When they won the ruling party’s floor leader election, they wanted to dominate the party leadership and have influence over the chairman of the emergency committee.

The operation of an emergency committee means there is an emergency. But they have a different understanding of emergency. The pro-Park politicians seem to think the emergency is a war against those who made the innocent president suffer. They are afraid that they may lose the next presidential election, which is likely to be held in the first half of next year.

It is far from the sense of crisis that the ruling party must have after allowing Choi Soon-sil’s influence over state affairs. The proper procedure would be acknowledgment of responsibility, an apology and then a complete overhaul of the party. But they simply refuse to change the pro-Park-centered party structure and adhere to power in the name of unity.

Will they be able to protect Park? Can they override what Choi did? Can they make the extortion of conglomerates a voluntary donation for the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations? Can they really say they are different from Chun Doo Hwan’s Ilhae Foundation?

In a trial, prosecutors have to present proof of guilt, and the defendant can simply defend. But that’s not how politics works. The defense does not clear charges.

Circumstantial evidence that is not acknowledged legally could bring political destruction. In an election, this kind of shameless nonreflective attitude could bring about an even more devastating outcome.

In the end, the entire conservative force must take responsibility for the Choi Soon-sil scandal. Of course, the Saenuri Party cannot avoid responsibility. But it is hard to understand why all conservatives must take responsibility for the scandal.

Defining the fracas as an ideological confrontation between conservative and liberal groups, the pro-Park faction calls those who point out Choi’s faults as “traitors to the conservatives.”

Korea’s conservatives are not just about Park Geun-hye. They existed before Park Chung Hee. There were democratization fighters as well. The pro-Park faction is trying to build a fence around Park and drive out others. Former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil said that Park Geun-hye inherited only the flaws of her father Park Chung Hee and the first lady, Yuk Young-soo. He was not just talking about Park’s personality. The conservatives have taken a narrow-minded and extreme tendency. The Choi Soon-sil controversy adds liabilities.

History progresses. There is no present without the past and no future without the present. We need to maintain a good legacy to progress forward, end our faults and learn from mistakes. It is foolish to repeat the wrongdoings of the past.

The entire conservative force cannot take all the responsibility for the Choi Soon-sil scandal. The right wing needs to look straight at the truth and decide whether to succeed Park Geun-hye or end the relationship. The future of our conservatives rests on the decision.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 21, Page 35


*The author is a senior columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Jin-kook
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