The end of the Park paradigmFormer President Park Geun-hye stayed stubbornly out of touch with the world. She did not doubt the legislature’s motion to impeach her would be overturned by the Constitutional Court. She did not believe her ears when she heard the eight-member bench of the top court unanimously upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment, and told her aides to re-check. She did not make any speech humbly accepting the ruling and held her head high when stepping out of the presidential residence to move to her private home in southern Seoul. Her spokesman delivered her feelings on her behalf. “The truth will come out in due time,” she said. Park utterly betrayed the public right to the end.
By abandoning her service and commitment to the people to instead devote her attention to one certain person — Choi Soon-sil — the president humiliated the people, who are the power behind the Constitution, the court said. She had forgotten the advice of ancient sage Nicolo Machiavelli on moral restraint on the use of power.
Italian philosopher Noberto Bobbio maintained that although democracy is a form of visible government, its distinction from autocracy is to allow citizens greater opportunities to look into matters that concern them and minimize the invisible power. Under Bobbio’s guidelines, the governing structure of President Park would fall into the dictatorship category, said Choi Jang-jip, professor emeritus at Korea University.
Park’s supporters argue she was much cleaner than her predecessors. U.S. President Richard Nixon, who had to resign over the Watergate scandal in 1974, claimed that bugging had been a customary practice in the White House and that his Democratic predecessors John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson also had done it. But a president is not impeached in comparison with his or her predecessors, but in the Constitutional context. The misdeeds of predecessors cannot pardon a present president.
Park’s ousting was a dramatic surprise considering familiar court scenes in which politicians have been repeatedly pardoned, which generated a lot of bitter cynicism about how justice serves the powerful. Ordinary people joined the weekly candlelit vigils in shows of intolerance of the corruption perpetrated by Park’s secretive inner circle. They led the National Assembly to pass the impeachment motion by a majority vote. An independent counsel worked rigorously to dig into the case and the Constitutional Court came to complete agreement that Park should be shown the door. What had seemed invincible power was vanquished in an orderly and peaceful manner in democratic procedures defined by the Constitution.
It was a miracle of joint endeavor with everyone fulfilling their Constitutional duties. The poignant scenes of triumph over justice and democracy that we see in movies panned out before our very eyes. In an editorial, the New York Times said, “The removal of Park as president marks a maturing of the country’s democracy and its institutions.” The people have restored their rightful sovereignty.
The Constitutional Court declared an end to the days when an elected president ruled as if he or she is above the law. No ruler will now dare to domineer over the people. The legacies of the Park Chung Hee regime, when the president wielded almighty power, could be finally chucked away to pave the way for a genuine people-led society.
Accepting the irreversible ruling of March 10 would be an act of respecting rules and self-dignity. There are those that still rally in favor of Park and against her removal. We must also respect the minority voice. Some in the older generation still believe there had been good intentions behind Park’s actions. We cannot change the thoughts of people who led different lives than ours. The majority who supported impeachment must understand their sense of loss and restrain from mocking or provoking them.
No one can monopolize justice. In the Greek tragedy “Antigone” by Sophocles, Creon and Antigone had distinct values. Creon, the king, justified his deeds because of his regard for the laws of the city. Antigone justified her actions due to her belief in the gods over man-made laws. Their convictions eventually led to tragic ends for both.
We would be wiser to accept our differences and agree to disagree. We must prove ourselves different from the self-destructive ways of Park, who drew up a blacklist of writers and artists who disagreed with her ideas and used the power of the presidency to discriminate against them.
Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” If we do not end the conflict among ourselves, it could bring ruin to us all. If we fight one another for having different thoughts, we cannot build a future.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 13, Page 31
*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.