The blame is clearFormer Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl plans to declare his bid for presidency Tuesday at a memorial dedicated to the noble sacrifice of independence fighter Yun Bong-gil (1908-1932). On Monday, Choe Jae-hyung, head of the Board and Audit and Inspection (BAI), expressed an intention to resign to “contemplate a possible role for the country.” Political circles consider his resignation a step toward running for president. In a stunning development, heads of two mighty agencies prepare for presidential runs without finishing their terms.
Choe’s stepping down carries particular significance. While the Prosecution Act ensures a two-year term for a prosecutor general, our Constitution guarantees a four-year term for the BAI chief. To help safeguard the separation of powers, our Constitution specifies the terms of the president (five years), the Supreme Court Chief Justice (six years) and lawmakers (four years). Just like that, the four-year term of the BAI head is certified by the Constitution. Choe surely would understand what that means. Reacting to questions about his future, Choe said, it is “inappropriate to carry out my job as BAI head in the face of suspicions about what my course of action would be.”
Nevertheless, it is difficult to criticize the two top officials for joining in politics as the Moon Jae-in administration should be first held accountable for their transformations. The government persistently obstructed them from looking into the Cho Kuk scandal and the Blue House’s alleged intervention in manipulating data on the Wolseong-1 reactor to help spur the government’s nuclear phase-out policy. In the process, the Blue House abused its authority over personnel affairs to shake the political independence and neutrality of the prosecution and BAI — the very foundation of democracy.
Former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae played many dirty tricks to force Yoon out and current Justice Minister Park Beom-kye tried to neutralize the prosecution methodically, as evidenced by his merciless reshuffle of mid-level prosecutors delving into abuse of power and corruption of the powers that be. Choe received pressure from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to step down after he pressed ahead with an inspection of the nuclear reactor data manipulation. Choe even became a suspect after he was accused by liberal groups for “abusing his authority.”
Democracy can be sustained when it comes under that kind of pressure. The stipulation of the tenures of top prosecutor and BAI head by laws is aimed at checking the abuse of power by the sitting power. If the BAI is closer to the legislature, the prosecution is akin to a judicial body in the government. Heads of such crucial entities running for president is unprecedented in our democracy. But no one can deny that it was the Moon administration that forcefully shoved them onto a political path.