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(News Focus) One year after Park's ouster, anti-corruption crusade in full swing

All Headlines 17:17 March 08, 2018

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- This week one year ago, South Korea witnessed the first removal from power of a democratically elected president by a court after nearly six months of weekly street protests against a leader accused of bribery and abuse of power.

The Constitutional Court's March 10 ruling on then-President Park Geun-hye was a watershed moment for the country's struggle to deepen democracy. The massive scandal, centered on Park, her close friend and business tycoons, laid bare deep-rooted corruptive ties among those in political and economic power and the nation's fragile systems of checks and balances.

Since her ouster, the country has strived to break with its corruption-prone systems and practices. Her successor Moon Jae-in has pushed for a sweeping anti-graft campaign, politicians have debated how to better check presidential powers and conservatives have sought profound internal reforms.

Elected in May on a pledge to "eliminate accumulated ills," the liberal Moon government has carried out a wide-ranging campaign to restore democracy and justice and redress graft, power abuses and rights violations under past administrations.

Though the move has triggered pushback from conservatives, who have called it political retribution, it has proceeded by leaps and bounds, with many citizens viewing it as due process to build a "country worthy of being called a country."

"The elimination of accumulated ills and reforms are not just an investigation but an endeavor to build a country worthy of being called a country and to make a righteous Republic of Korea by reforming accumulated practices in powerful organizations, and all economic and social sectors," Moon said during a meeting with his top secretaries in October.

This photo taken on March 5, 2018, shows President Moon Jae-in speaking during a meeting with his senior secretaries at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul. (Yonhap)

"This is also an undertaking aimed at enhancing the country's competitiveness," he added.

The administration has burrowed into a series of politically charged cases, such as the bungled state response to the 2014 ferry disaster, the spy agency's alleged political interference and the former governments' purported blacklisting of cultural figures deemed critical of it.

Hewing to the presidential fiat, the National Intelligence Service vowed to break with politics. It decided to ban any activities that pry into government and public organizations, civic groups, media outlets and enterprises. It also pledged to relinquish all of its investigative rights, including anti-espionage, which critics say compromised citizens' human rights in some cases.

Probes into high-profile members of former governments have proceeded swiftly.

Kim Kwan-jin, Park's former security advisor, has been under investigation over allegations that he sought to scale back a probe into the military's suspected political operations. Kim Jang-soo, who also served as the former president's security advisor, has been questioned on the suspicion that he tempered with reports on the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014.

The prosecution's probe has also taken aim at a key figure in the ruling camp. Jun Byung-hun, Moon's former senior secretary for political affairs, has been indicted on charges of bribery, violation of the political fund law, embezzlement and abuse of power.

While Park's sentencing hearing is set for next month, former President Lee Myung-bak faces a prosecutorial investigation over allegations of bribery and other irregularities. Lee has been asked to appear for questioning next week.

Sharing the view that the current concentration of power in a single leader has caused corruption, abuse of power and intense political polarization, rival parties have discussed ways to reshape the power structure through a constitutional revision.

But their debate has made little progress, as the parties have remained apart over how to retool the decades-old charter and when to hold a referendum on the envisioned amendment.

This photo taken on Dec. 4, 2017, shows a parliamentary committee on a constitutional revision holding a plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

A major bone of contention is the government structure. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has called for a power-sharing model under which more authority is given to the prime minster. The ruling Democratic Party espouses a change from the current single, five-year presidential term to a four-year presidency that allows for one re-election.

Amid the deadlock, Moon has directed his government to draw up its own amendment proposal in an apparent move to pressure the parties to accelerate their deliberations.

As the liberal ruling bloc has been leading the anti-corruption endeavors, the conservative camp has been forging ahead with internal reforms to shore up public trust and pave the way for their return to power.

The main opposition party has expelled the disgraced former president to enhance its tainted image and sought to unify the fractured conservative bloc to bolster its parliamentary presence ahead of the June local elections, which are seen as a referendum on Moon's first year in office.

The party has also fleshed out its much-trumpeted vision of "new conservatism," which involves shielding the market from government control; protecting citizens' right to life in the face of social, security and other challenges; and pursuing constant innovations for sustainable growth.

"The LKP should not waver in its efforts for an end to old politics and a grand integration among conservatives," the party's reform panel said in a statement in December.

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