New government, same old tricks
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who looked down her nose at those accusing her of favoritism for her son during his military service, has moved onto the next act of pleading sympathy by claiming she and her son are the victims. She has asked the prosecution to investigate the affair, but few would believe the result. The case has been left with the same prosecutorial team that had been sitting on it for months. The prosecution can hardly be blamed, given the aggressive campaign from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), government and presidential office to defend her. The ruling camp has consistently been over-protective of their people regardless of the corruption charges.
Koreans are particularly sensitiveness about fairness when it comes to military duty, college and job admissions. The mass movement to punish Choi Soon-sil and impeach former President Park Geun-hye was triggered by allegation about Choi’s daughter enjoying favoritism in entering an elite college and getting decent grades thanks to her mother’s connection with the president.
President Moon Jae-in came to power after the people pushed Park out of office. Upon his inauguration, Moon ordered investigations into all questionable cases of the past even if their statute of limitation had expired, arguing that “social justice cannot be achieved without finding the truth in suspicious cases related to the elites.”
As a result, a group of people in power in the past were summoned for investigations. Some even said the investigation into past affairs could go back to the monarchy times. Yet the strict guidelines did not apply to those on the same side. Choo’s son has even been likened to independence movement martyr Ahn Jung-geun for taking medical leave for three consecutive weeks.
Justice Ministers Cho Kuk and Choo coming under fire for favoritism involving their offspring — and ruling party lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang who was accused of ripping off survivors of Japanese military enslavement while leading organizations aimed to act on their behalf — were the poster boys of the government’s push for justice.
However, they were discovered to be the opposite. Cho showed how family ties can get jobs few young people can dream of. His successor raises questions over how her son could have taken such a long time off his military duty if his mother had not been in a high position in the government — at the time the head of the DP. Rep. Yoon made money from selling justice.
The government makes the same stubborn excuses for their wrongdoings. It pardons individual corruptions for the cause of prosecution reforms. How can the prosecution be reformed when the justice minister under investigation interferes with investigations into a case involving her own son?
Moon said that the days when the elites colluded and deceived to vex the people must end. He argued that there had not been any cases of political collusion and corruption related to the National Security Service, prosecution and police under his government. But what about the two justice ministers and Yoon? A society where getting into top universities and military life can differ depending on the power of parents cannot be deemed just and fair. It cannot be a just society if it comes under influences of foul play or privilege or tolerates unfairness and irregularities.
Public office does not entitle favoritism. Choo’s son enjoyed various benefits during his military service few servicemen can dream of. He could not have received such special treatment if his mother was not a big wig of the ruling party. The president should be ordering attention to the case. He should at least apologize for the repeated follies his people have caused. But he keeps silent on the affairs, contrary to the specific orders he had given on the cases related to past government officials.
Democracy is laudable because it allows a second chance for the loser. In a monarchy and a dictatorship, keeping power is a matter of life and death. That’s why they pursue their opponents and purge them. In democracy, one can regain power through public support.
The ruling power must explain how the privileges of its people are different from those that spelled the end of the former president’s friend and her daughter. At least the Moon administration should have shown it could deal with allegations differently and honestly. It has done neither.