Toward a better futureSouth Korea added a sad chapter to its history of constitutional democracy. Following the arrests of former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo on corruption charges two decades ago, former president Park Geun-hye is under detention for investigation, indictment and trial after she was ousted from power on March 10. Despite the 51.6 percent of the votes she received in the last presidential election in 2012, she was impeached by the National Assembly on bribery and abuse of power charges on Dec. 9 and the Constitutional Court upheld the legislature’s decision three weeks ago.
The development is a tragedy for Park as an individual. Losing both parents in assassinations, she had lived in seclusion for 18 years before she went into politics and was elected the 18th president. With the highest court’s ruling to dethrone her, she became the first South Korean president who was removed from office during a presidential term.
In fact, she asked for it. In the face of repeated criticisms of her critical lack of communication even with her own policy advisers, she insisted on restricting communication to her personal aides, including confidante Choi Soon-sil. Even after flagrant abuse of power was laid bare, the former president flatly denied all the charges against her and refused to step down. Her reiteration of such phrases as “I did not know” translated into a complete abdication of her presidential duty and integrity.
Despite the indelible stain on our democracy, the foreign press praised the maturity of our society and its legal system, which showed that even a president can be forced out — in a democratic and nonviolent way — if she or he violates the law. Presidential contenders must learn a lesson from Park’s ouster: The people’s power can help them to be elected president and then topple them if they make grave mistakes.
South Korea will have trouble tackling its tough security and economic challenges considering the sharp national division over Park’s removal and arrest. Now is the time to refocus our national energy on building a future. Whether at a candlelight vigil or a flag-waving rally, politicians must not fuel public outrage for their own gains. Instead, they must find effective ways to decentralize our imperial presidency to ensure a transparent exercise of power.
38 days are left before the next presidential election. Presidential hopefuls must present their ideas to enhance our national competitiveness after all the turmoil subsides. They must not be tempted to enjoy power by only relying on their inner circle if elected president. Voters must sort out any presidential wannabes with such distorted sensibilities. The last thing we want to see is another presidential impeachment.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 1, Page 26