Leaving the past behindThe ruling Democratic Party (DP) toned down its rhetoric on pardoning former Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye by concluding that “atonement by the two” should come first, in a senior executive meeting on Sunday. The two former conservative presidents have been put behind bars for abuse of power and corruption.
The meeting was held after DP Chairman Lee Nak-yon said in a media interview that he planned to propose to President Moon Jae-in that he consider special pardons for the two former presidents “at an appropriate date.” After the meeting, Lee also stepped back and repeated his official statement. “Let’s wait until the Supreme Court delivers a final ruling on the fate of former President Park. After his proposal, Lee faced strong backlash from party members and supporters.
Lee said he came up with the idea for the “unity of the people.” But few would believe in his innocence with the idea, given the cynicism from the ruling front. Moreover, his comment came before the Seoul High Court’s retrial on Park’s case later this month. After Lee’s proposal, the Blue House responded less negatively, saying “discussion” could be possible.
The special pardon card comes as polls show President Moon’s negative approval rating hitting above 60 percent. Lee also may have taken into account the internal division of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) over its leader’s apology for the deeds of the past two conservative presidents. The DP said it would respect the thoughts of party members. But the ambiguous statement suggests the idea is still alive for political usefulness.
In spite of political purposes, the pardon is not a bad idea. It is a disgrace to have two recent presidents behind bars. They are both aged and in poor health. Park has been behind bars for nearly four years. Former general-turned-presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were released after serving two years in jail following special pardons.
Granting a special pardon requires a careful study to uphold the validity of legal actions. But few believe the two presidents will complete their terms. A presidential pardon does not pardon their wrongdoings. What’s left is whether to really pardon them and, if it is determined, when to grant the pardon, say before the two mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan in April or the presidential election in March next year given the political ramifications. Moon’s presidential pardoning mostly centered on union or civilian activists. He must exercise wisdom to contribute to social unity while minimizing political controversies.