What has changed?
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Every time I get on and off the subway, I face a huge banner decrying an “extreme pro-Japan right wing out to defame Yoon Mee-hyang and the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.” It replaced a banner that condemned the prosecution for its “coup” against former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.
Defenders of Yoon, a lawmaker-elect for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and former head of the advocacy group for the victims of Japanese wartime sexual enslavement and crimes, claim that accusations against her have been cooked up by what is called pro-Japanese forces. But the main accusations so far against Yoon have come from one of the sexual slavery victims, euphamistically known as the “comfort women.”
The controversy seems to never end. New suspicions come up every day, followed by excuses and explanations that don’t always make sense. Many people do not believe that Yoon’s misappropriations of public donations were innocent accounting mistakes. Yoon and her defenders from the ruling party should have admitted to misdeeds and apologized by now.
But the case is building up to become the next rescue campaign for the ruling party, similar to the one for controversial former Justice Minister Cho and his family. Some liken Yoon’s use — or misuse — of public donations to the fighting for independence from the Japanese colonial rule. DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan denounced a witch hunt against Yoon and her family. It is indeed déjà vu.
The ruling party expelled Yang Jeong-suk, who had been elected to a proportional representation seat, over real estate speculation allegations. But the DP has made Yoon an exceptional case, as it did for Cho. The ruling front appears to hold the two up as icons of an anti-Japan or nationalistic movement and prosecutorial reforms, two pillars of its identity. The court warrant for a raid of Yoon’s office means the court agrees to the prosecutorial grounds for investigation. But the DP criticized the prosecution for its “rash” raid. It seems to believe it can save Yoon as long as it had enough supporters around it.
But the ruling party must not think it has gained public sympathy over its arrogant and unilateral prosecutorial reorganization and nationalism based on its deep-rooted anti-Japan sentiment. Yoon and Yang became members of the 21th National Assembly from Saturday. Another lawmaker-elect, Choi Kang-wook — a former Blue House secretary discharged for influence-meddling allegations tied to Cho — was sworn in with a vow to “take revenge to show how the world has changed.” They will likely stand at the forefront of punishing what they call “pro-Japanese forces” and push Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-yeol out of job.
The DP named reforms of the legislature and other law enforcement authorities as top priorities for the new National Assembly term. Few will disagree with those needs. But the stage brims with partisanship. To prevent the new Assembly from getting in harm’s way, politics must return to common sense and reason. But it cannot be common sense if the ruling party is defending a lawmaker suspected of having run a business on the sufferings of victims of wartime atrocities or advocating someone who is under trial for power abuse.
Yoon, who has refused to resign from office before her crimes are proven, can avoid arrest thanks to the privileges extended to our lawmakers. The “changes in the world” must not mean abnormalities. A responsible ruling party would have expelled Yoon. It should have paved the way for fact-finding first. What has really changed? The ruling party must not forget that it lost power after devouring and abusing the power it won about two decades ago.