The day afterThe worst fears may come true. At a gathering in November ahead of the legislative motion on impeaching President Park Geun-hye, political veterans worried about a severe national divide once the trial began. There was wisdom in the prophecy of the old school.
I am surely not the only one hoping for an end to this state of disquiet and a return to normalcy. But I doubt that things will turn out to be that simple.
Many countries started to see extreme division and unrest last year. A parliamentarian championing Britain staying in the European Union was killed ahead of the referendum on Brexit. Conflict between the young and older generation was severe. The young did not want to give away their free access to jobs in Europe and the European market, while the older voters preferred to leave the intrusive EU and tighten the nation’s borders. In the United States after the most scandalous election campaign, critics of Donald Trump took to the streets unwilling to accept the controversial candidate as their new president even after his victory.
Brazil’s case feels more close to home. Parallel demonstrations supporting and protesting the parliamentary impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took place across 400 cities. Rousseff was finally removed from her office in August after an impeachment trial upheld the charges against her for manipulating the federal budget to hide the country’s worsening economic problems.
But the country has not recovered from the brutal divide. Fiery protests continue and President Michel Temer, who succeeded the impeached president, is headed onto the same ill-fated path as his predecessor on charges of power abuse and corruption.
The Brazilian economy is in very bad shape after all the political unrest. The economy is in recession, contracting 3.5 percent last year after a 3.8 percent retreat in 2015. The unemployment rate is at an all-time high of 12.6 percent with the number of jobless people reaching 13 million.
We are as contentious as the Brazilians. The people marching in candlelight vigils calling for the removal or resignation of President Park are ridiculed as zombies. While the elders waving national flags in support of the president are sneered at as a bunch of old-timers. The pro-impeachment group warns of a revolt if Park’s impeachment is not endorsed by the Constitutional Court, while the anti-impeachment camp threatens blood if her presidency ends.
Not a few presidential candidates in the next election are actually encouraging people to fight to the end. Given the current mood, the country could be swept up in chaos after the court delivers its final ruling on the impeachment a few weeks from now.
But we must do all we can to prevent the worst. There are lessons from overseas. British Prime Minister Theresa May immediately tried to mend the national fissure after the British vote to leave the EU, which led to the quitting of the former prime minister, who endeavored to keep Britain within the EU. May formed a cabinet comprised of both supporters and critics of the British exit.
Religious leaders chipped in to bring about national unity. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and the most senior bishop in the Church of England, and London’s first Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan all campaigned for social harmony.
One of the best examples for settling potential unrest was the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which was the closest election in the nation’s history with a margin of a 0.09 percent. The narrow margin required a mandatory recount in the decisive state of Florida. Litigation followed in both state and federal courts as much of the voting errors stemmed from a new system of paper-based punch card voting machines. The Federal Supreme Court in December 2000 finally ended the statewide recount and granted Bush victory.
Democrats protested the decision in front of the Supreme Court. All the counties with questionable vote counts were actually Democratic strongholds. Gore, who won the national popular vote by more than 500,000 votes and yet was narrowly defeated in the Electoral College 271 to 266, said that he disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling, and yet accepted the result “for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy.”
We are already sick of what we have to go through due to shameful leadership. Political, religious and other leaders must raise their voices to minimize a schism in society after the verdict. President Park must humbly step down for the pain she has caused the people if that’s what the court rules. That will help her undo some of the harm she has done and recoup a modicum of dignity upon leaving the Blue House.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 38
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.