All eyes on Yoon
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Picketers in front of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul last Saturday held up signs reading “Defend Cho Kuk” and “Prosecute Yoon Seok-youl.” They were rallying to oust the prosecutor general to protect controversial Justice Minister Cho Kuk. They were out to call for immunity for their beloved government official through the force of the masses instead of legal reasoning and evidence. Their chanted out “We are Cho Kuk!” resembling the Venezuelan crowds crying out “Chavez lives!” as the Venezuelan democracy turned into a totalitarian society under strongman Hugo Chavez. The supporters have become blind in their mission to save Cho and his family.
Their call for prosecution reforms looks like a pretext to oust the prosecutor general regardless of his statutory term to punish him for going after Cho. Their candlelight vigil therefore does not have the same resonance as the mass movement to impeach President Park Geun-hye in late 2016.
The law enforcement office investigates the charges against a person. The court makes a judgment based on the indictments brought forward by the prosecution. These procedures are not just defined by our Constitution and criminal laws, but they form the very foundation of every human society. The concept of people gathering in a plaza to make a judgment on the deeds of a person was a theoretical idea among communists. Public execution in North Korea and judiciary coups in Venezuela to oust thousands of prosecutors and judges through mass movement are some extreme examples. Under mass-led democracy, state institutions become dysfunctional and a country falls into an anarchy or prey to totalitarianism.
The state chief executive has the duty to prevent such disasters. The Constitution defines upholding the “national sustainability” as the primary role of the president. President Moon Jae-in would be neglecting his constitutional duty if he condones the mass cries demanding discharge of the prosecution chief to save Cho.
Yoon should not waver in his duty. He often said the prosecution’s power comes from the people. The prosecution chief is appointed by the president. But the president is elected by the people. Yoon has sent two former presidents and a Supreme Court chief justice to prison. He must be equally strict with the sitting power. He must not make up a crime that does not exist or attempt to cover one up.
His task this time will be tougher than prosecuting former presidents and chief justice. He is up against the president, the government and the ruling party, as well as their civilian supporters. But no power can overwhelm broad public sentiment. The people are not asking to convict Cho, but for a fair investigation that follows the law, regardless of who the person is.
Society has become divided because Moon has made Cho the justice minister despite controversies. The final onus will fall on the president. Yet Yoon must do his duty of finding out whether Cho should be convicted.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 7, Page 31