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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 4)

All News 07:04 January 04, 2021

Don't abuse pardons
Ruling party chief's proposal seen as political gambit

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Lee Nak-yon has floated the idea of pardoning two imprisoned former presidents ― Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye ― to promote national unity. But the proposal is raising doubts about his real intention as it is seen as a political gambit.

"I will propose pardons for the two former presidents to President Moon Jae-in at an appropriate time," Lee said Friday in a New Year interview with Yonhap News Agency. He stressed the need for amnesty to promote reconciliation and social cohesion. But his move is certainly aimed at consolidating his political position as a presidential hopeful.

Yet it is difficult to take Lee's proposal at face value. First, there is no national consensus on special pardons for the conservative former heads of state. Even the liberal governing party has never discussed the issue among its members. Besides, many DPK lawmakers are skeptical about the proposal.

Therefore, it is still premature to talk about the matter. Many people, who joined massive candlelit rallies to call for Park's impeachment in late 2016 and early 2017, are against granting her a pardon. The Moon administration and the DPK could only risk deepening the ideological conflict between progressives and conservatives by pardoning her.

On top of that, Lee's cited reason for the suggested pardons is not persuasive. The disgraced former presidents are no longer a stumbling block to national harmony and reconciliation. Ex-President Lee, who ruled the country between 2008 and 2013, is serving a 17-year prison term after being convicted of bribery and embezzlement. His successor Park, who was impeached for corruption in March 2017, is also serving a 20-year term after she was found guilty of bribe-taking, influence-peddling and abuse of power. Her final ruling is set for Jan. 14.

It would have been more appealing if Chairman Lee had brought up the issue for humanitarian purposes. In fact, the two former presidents are elderly ― Lee is 79 and Park is 68. In addition, neither of them are in good health. Another factor that should be considered is their status as former heads of state.

In many respects, the timing of the DPK chief's suggestion appears to be inappropriate. It comes about three months before the upcoming April mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. If Moon accepts Lee's proposal, he could pardon the former presidents on Lunar New Year's Day in February, or the March 1 Independence Movement Day. If that is the case, the government and the DPK cannot avoid criticism for trying to use the pardons to boost their declining popular support and win the elections.

That's why conservative minor opposition People's Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo, who has already declared his bid for Seoul mayor, warned that presidential pardons should not be used for political purposes. Progressive minor opposition Justice Party leader Kim Jong-cheol voiced his objection by saying that pardoning the former presidents is not the right way to realize social justice. Only the far-right Our Republican Party welcomed the proposal.

Main opposition People Power Party (PPP) interim leader Kim Chong-in is cautious about the amnesty proposal, saying that Chairman Lee has not consulted him about the issue. Party members still loyal to the former presidents have welcomed the suggestion. But most PPP lawmakers are concerned that the pardons, if granted, would reignite factional infighting in the conservative party, whose predecessors produced the former heads of the state.

Against this backdrop, the DPK and the presidential office should not play the card of pardons to divide the opposition camp before the by-elections. Instead, they must foster national unity by working together with the PPP and other minority parties without railroading bills and making decisions unilaterally. Only then should they attempt to build a national consensus if they really want to free the jailed former presidents.


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