The LKP’s crumbling integrity
The author is the chief editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was originally a lawyer. He was a prosecutor who specialized in national security cases and he also served as the justice minister. But now, he is shaking up Korea’s judicial and legal systems in his pursuit of becoming a politician. During the primary race for the Liberty Korea Party’s (LKP) chairmanship, he raised the possibility that the tablet PC of Choi Soon-sil — a longtime friend of former President Park Geun-hye — was tempered with, although it was used as key evidence of Park’s impeachment for power abuse.
Hwang ignored the fact that not only the prosecution but also the National Forensic Service and courts concluded the computer in question was not tempered with. Byun Hee-jae, a conservative commentator, was sentenced to two years in jail after making the same argument, but Hwang also ignored this fact. Although he made a remark that goes against the conscience of a lawyer, he did not present a single shred of evidence to back his argument.
After the National Assembly passed a bill to impeach Park on Dec. 9, 2016, Hwang, who was the prime minister at the time, became the acting president. If there was a possibility that Choi’s tablet PC was tempered with, he should have raised the issue before assuming the post. Instead, he chose to remain silent.
After the Constitutional Court ruled to impeach President Park, Hwang issued a statement to the nation that South Korea is a liberal democracy based on the rule of law and that everyone must respect the Constitutional Court’s ruling; and now he is mentioning the possibility the tablet was manipulated despite it being the smoking gun behind Park’s impeachment.
Hwang has crossed a red line. Two days before challenging the veracity of the tablet PC, he said, “It was inappropriate to impeach her over political responsibilities, although objective truth was not clearly revealed.” Regardless how desperate he might have been, how could he have made such arguments? His remarks constitute a brazen denial of Park’s impeachment.
Hwang must have felt desperate due to pressure from Park loyalists — the so-called Taegukgi Troops; or he may have felt desperate after Park’s lawyer, Yoo Yeong-ha, revealed she had turned down his visit to her in prison. Many people who supported Hwang, who believed he was a Park loyalist, became uneasy. As such, Hwang needed to turn the situation around. When Kim Jin-tae, a rival in the race for chairmanship and an extreme rightist, asked him a question about Park’s impeachment, Hwang resorted to challenging the impeachment’s legitimacy and the provided evidence’s veracity.
Hwang may have thought he could become the leader and eventually the presidential candidate of the party should he win the Taegukgi Troops over, but that was a shortsighted decision. If he pleases the Taegukgi Troops and retains the Park loyalists, he may be able to win the chairmanship, but the presidential candidacy will be a completely different story.
According to public polls, those who want the LKP to sever its ties to the Taegukgi Troops are twice those who desire the ties remain. Most supporters of the Bareunmirae Party — a moderate conservative party the LKP desperately wishes to merge with — want the ties to be severed. The more Hwang pleases the Taegukgi Troops, the farther he will stand from public sentiment.
Winning the ticket to the presidential election will be decided by the people’s wise judgment, not by the voices of the Taegukgi Troops. Many want the conservatives to lead the future rather than remain a thing of the past. Hwang’s argument, that the tablet might have been tempered with, fell short of such expectations. It was an extremely poor move for a presidential hopeful.
Such anti-historical, extreme behavior is a poison threatening the LKP’s existence. After former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a moderate conservative, joined the race, the LKP’s leadership election became popular among the public as was seen in the slow rise of the party’s approval rating to narrow the gap with the ruling Democratic Party.
But after Reps. Kim Jin-tae, Kim Soon-rye and Lee Jong-myeong argued the North Korean military was behind the May 18, 1980, Gwangju democracy movement, the party’s approval rating plummeted. Hwang’s latest controversial remarks, then, dealt a fatal blow to the embattled party. Although the LKP won the support of the Taegukgi Troops, it lost the trust of the general public.
Citizens are extremely disappointed with the liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s failures. Although the administration pushed forward its touted income-led growth policy to “create a prosperous country for everyone,” the outcomes have been devastating. The number of jobless among the low-income class and the self-employed has been skyrocketing. As the poor are getting poorer, the liberals in the ruling camp are becoming increasingly hopeless.
Now is the best time for the opposition party to garner support. Yet the LKP — the largest opposition party with a whopping 113 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly — has failed to present solutions to end such economic hardships. To put it another way, it is competing with the ruling party to see who will lose more public support. The people’s hearts are broken.
If the liberals accomplished democratization with their blood, the conservatives built the legacy of industrialization with their sweat. Hwang’s challenging of the veracity of the tablet is a farce and an attempt to rewind history. Hwang ignored the rule of law and abandoned the conservatives’ dignity. He must recant his remarks and apologize before it is too late; that is the only way to save the conservative camp and our society.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 31