Democracy under attack
The author is the head of the national 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Moon Jae-in attended the 33rd anniversary memorial ceremony of the June 10 Democratic Protest. In the 896-word address, Moon mentioned “democracy” 53 times. In front of the interrogation room in Namyeong-dong, where Seoul National University student Park Jong-cheol was waterboarded to death and the movement was ignited, the president once again emphasized the importance of democracy. It was moving to see the parents of the late democratization activists awarded with medals.
Moon took time to explain the various definitions and values of democracy. However, is Korea’s democracy going as the president said in 2020?
While democracy is considered to be established now, I see voices and acts threatening democracy here and there. It seems especially dangerous as they are led by some ruling party lawmakers who are supposed to share President Moon’s political philosophy.
In the newly opened 21st National Assembly, Rep. Park Byung-seok, a six-term lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), was elected the speaker. But the members of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) were absent. It is the first time that the legislature opened without the opposition in 53 years. I covered the National Assembly for nearly 20 years since the 16th Assembly. But it is the first time that the ruling party, buoyed with 269 seats in the 300-member Assembly, opened the session on its own. The legislature always respected agreement even as it fought.
In February, the DP proposed a revision of the special act on the May 18 Democratization Movement. It outlines imprisonment of no more than 7 years or a fine of less than 70 million won ($58,000) for distributing false information on the May 18 movement. In the 21st National Assembly, Rep. Jung Chung-rae, a DP lawmaker, even proposed a bill to claim compensation for false media reports up to three times the damage. On Facebook, he wrote, “I want to make it 30 times, or even 300 times, but it is more important to make it a law first. So I kept it equitable with other laws.”
On June 10, the government said it would outlaw groups of North Korean defectors who dispatch propaganda leaflets across the border. Pyongyang consistently condemned it.
No one can find fault with the majority party controlling the National Assembly or the punishment of defamation regarding the May 18 Democratization Movement or holding the media accountable for false reports. Nevertheless, I wonder if pushing these measures without considering the opposition or not caring for freedom of speech is really based on the principle of democracy.
President Moon said, “Our democracy should never regress. We must advance to more democracy, greater democracy and more diverse democracy.” But why do moves of ruling party members seem to be headed to less, smaller and more uniform democracy to me?