Loyalty is blind
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“After his election victory, President Roh Moo-hyun asked his supporters what they would do next, and all of them, as if they had made a pact, said they will keep him in check,” Rep. Lee Kwang-jae of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), one of the loyal supporters of the late Roh, said. The loyalists of President Moon Jae-in, however, are different from the Roh loyalists. They do not accept any criticism of Moon. After Roh’s tragic suicide, they decided to protect Moon at any cost. The liberals, who led the democratization of the country, are turning into extremists who do not tolerate criticism.
Korea is seeing more than 1,000 new daily cases of Covid-19 infections, but the administration’s top priority is the purging of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl by Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. Patients and medical professionals are struggling due to a shortage of wards, and the government lost its chance to purchase vaccines. Infection control and the economy are about to collapse, but the administration does not care. Yoon is facing a cruel punishment for “treason” after he ordered probes into key members of the administration.
In this case, Justice Minister Choo is the petitioner and the de facto judge of the disciplinary process. “The process is against Nemo judex in causa sua — a principle of natural justice that no person can judge a case in which they have an interest,” said Huh Young, a professor at Kyung Hee University Law School. A purge of the prosecutor general violates the principle.
The process of launching the Corruption Investigation Office (CIO) for High-ranking Officials is also rigged. President Moon has stressed that no one, even the members of the current administration, is exempt from investigations of their suspected abuse of power. But the ruling party used its supermajority and revised the CIO Act to remove the opposition’s veto power in the appointment of its head.
The prosecution’s investigations into the Blue House’s alleged abuse of power to shut down a nuclear reactor and to influence the Ulsan mayoral election will likely be obstructed. “This is an attempt to make sure that Moon won’t be punished,” said former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon. “A monstrous organization will be launched to allow the powers that be avoid punishments for their own crimes,” said Ahn Cheol-soo, chairman of the People’s Party. Moon’s justification to reform the prosecution has been tainted already.
Now is not the right time for the Moon administration to concentrate on ousting Yoon. The government must fight the worst-ever pandemic and skyrocketing home prices. As Moon’s “Declaration of 2050 Carbon Neutrality” excluded the usage of nuclear energy, the industry is in panic. Even the National Council on Climate Change and Air Quality said it is impossible to realize Moon’s carbon neutrality promise without reversing his nuclear phase-out.
The ruling DP has faced criticism after railroading the act on punishing those distorting the history of the May 18, 1980 Gwangju democratization movement. Many said it is no different from the Park Geun-hye administration’s failed push for state-written history textbooks given the liberal administration’s reluctance to listen to different opinions. Even Choi Jin-Seok, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Sogang University — who witnessed the democracy uprisings and the government’s brutal crackdowns in Gwangju when he was 21 years old — opposed the law. “It is unacceptable to legislate a law and bar debates and exchanges of different opinions,” he said.
But no one in the administration or the DP can say “No” to the president, as they want to please the Moon supporters. They are abusing power under the justification of protecting the president and the entire country is shamefully controlled by the narrow-minded views of the Moon aficionados.
After her supporters in the Justice Ministry and the prosecution turned against her for her reckless attempt to oust Yoon and an administrative court stopped her from suspending Yoon from active duty, the justice minister posted a funeral photo of Roh on Facebook. She probably believed that she can keep her presidential ambition as long as she satisfies the Moon loyalists, whose roots basically lie in what remains of the Roh loyalists in South Korea.
DP Chairman Lee Nak-yon called the Moon loyalists “reasonable people” and a “source of energy for the party.” His strength as a centrist and pragmatist has been weakened considerably.
Chairman Choe Kang-wook of the Open Minjoo Party has proposed a bill that bars a prosecutor or a judge from running in an election until after one year after resignation. The bill, if passed, can effectively bar Yoon from running in the presidential election in 2022.
Extremism is suffocating politics. McCarthyism is being reborn as a tool for the liberals. Where are the liberal activists who risked their lives for democracy?
Moon has provoked such absurdities in politics. In the presidential primary in 2017, he was denounced by archrival An Hee-jung. After his loyalists attacked An, a former South Chungcheong governor, for criticizing Moon, Moon branded their actions a “spice that excites a competition.” He who silences critics is an enemy of a democracy. Moon’s supporters said they will protect him because of their guilt over failing to protect Roh. What is the outcome of such blind support for Moon? Centrist supporters who value reason and pragmatism are leaving because they are fed up with the loyalists’ fanaticism. Is this really a way to protect Moon?
After Moon came into office, An gave advice to his loyalists. “You should not reject a debate. Otherwise, the arena of public debate collapses. Such blind support cannot protect an administration,” he said. What an eerily accurate forecast it was!
President Moon must ask his loyalists to let him go and bid farewell to them. Moon must discourage them from trying to purge Yoon. An insect’s metamorphosis is accompanied by extreme pain. That is a process of growth and survival. When the Moon administration risks immediate losses and breaks away from the intervention of the extremists, it will be able to transform into a mature party. That is the only way to save Moon and the people.