The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl are engaged in a bloody war. The Seoul Administrative Court and the disciplinary committee of the ministry will judge Choo’s allegation that Yoon ordered illegal surveillance of some judges. No matter the outcome, protracted — and unprecedented — lawsuits involving a justice minister and a top prosecutor will follow.
Even the ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s fifth-term lawmaker Rep. Lee Sang-min, said he is fed up with their endless battle. The liberal civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said the president must make a decision to resolve the situation because the people’s disgust and fatigue are no longer bearable. The public is enraged, but President Moon Jae-in keeps silent.
The DP and the administration are ready to send Yoon to jail. DP lawmaker Song Young-gil said Yoon must step down and comply with criminal investigations of his alleged corruption.
But if the prosecutor general wins the suit on the legitimacy of his suspension and expected dismissal, Choo will face consequences. That is by far the worst-case scenario.
Moon’s silence is a signal that Yoon should be removed. He is angry that Yoon, whose probes contributed to ousting former President Park Geun-hye three years ago, is now targeting members of his administration. The starting point was the Cho Kuk crisis. Moon must be regretful of telling Yoon that he must not be afraid of investigating key members of the current administration if there are any suspicions.
If Yoon is disarmed, Moon can momentarily stop the prosecution’s ongoing investigations into the Blue House’s alleged intervention in the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018 and the Lime and Optimus corruption scandals. Removal of Yoon will also help distract the people’s attention from real estate prices, controversy surrounding the early shutdown of the Wolseong-I nuclear reactor and the government’s decision to scrap the Gimhae International Airport expansion plan.
But it won’t completely erase the corruption and illegalities the Moon administration committed. Of 1,789 rank-and-file prosecutors around the country, 1,761 signed a petition against Choo’s suspension of Yoon. They will not give up investigating all the volatile cases.
If a tumor is left unremoved, it will spread throughout a body. Why does Yoon have to be sacked for trying to remove the cancer? Presidential runners, albeit undeclared yet, and political heavyweights must persuade the president to act reasonably. But no one is willing to. DP Chairman Lee Nak-yon instead pressured the top prosecutor to step down.
Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chairman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, had a heated quarrel with People Power Party Rep. Cho Su-jin about the opposition party’s plan to invite Yoon to a committee meeting to speak about his position. Chairman Yun insulted Rep. Cho, a former reporter, by saying, “You must be repeating the practice of making jjirasi,” referring to publication of unfounded gossip. Is he really saying that former reporters-turned-lawmakers — such as DP Chairman Lee and Rep. Yoon Young-chan, former spokesman of the Blue House — also hail from such gossip publications? Attacking a press that is critical of the administration is rejecting the fundamentals of democracy.
Yi I, one of the most prominent philosophers of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) known by his pen name Yulgok, was a powerful critic. During his 12 years of service in the court, he wrote some 130 appeals to the Kings, Myeongjong and Seonjo. When natural disasters repeated in 1574, King Seonjo asked for his subjects’ advice, and Yulgok sent an extremely lengthy appeal.
“When you make an order, your words carry emotion, and you are not consistent about what you like and dislike … All parts of this court, from pillars to the roof, are rotten … but many carpenters are just sitting on their hands. This is what our country is like. The people have long been exhausted … Within less than a decade, a gigantic disaster will visit Joseon,” he wrote.
In the year of 1582, Yulgok also pressured King Seonjo. “How can you believe the country can be protected when you do nothing and just sit on the throne?” The appeal was made just 10 years before the Japanese invasion. “I want to do something, but I am so ignorant and lack talent and insight. I could not run the country the way I wanted. As I look back on the past, I have many regrets,” the king replied. Today’s politicians who have joined the presidential silence must feel shame.
Recently, a post was made on the portal site of Seoul National University students. It was titled “I am sorry, President Park Geun-hye.” The author wrote, “I criticized you for firing Chae Dong-wook as the prosecutor general for having an affair, but as I see Yoon being attacked for alleged surveillance of judges, I realize I should have not criticized you.” The people are increasingly withdrawing their support for the liberal administration.
“As the left [and the institutions that represent it] increasingly becomes an intellectual monoculture, it will do more than just drive away talent, as well as significant parts of its audience. It will become more self-certain, more obnoxious to those who don’t share its assumptions, more blinkered and more frequently wrong,” wrote Bret Stephens, a columnist for the New York Times. He stressed that the truth is best discovered by engaging opposing points of view. The liberals in Korea, mostly intoxicated with the power they have, are ignoring his point of view. The DP is high-handed and overbearing even while the opposition is incompetent. Where is the exit to escape this chaos?