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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

[Editorial] UPP disbandment making South Korea an international laughingstock

From left, then-Saenuri Party (NFP) candidate and now President Park Geun-hye, Unified Progressive Party candidate Lee Jung-hee, Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in at MBC studios in Seoul‘s Yeouido neighborhood for their televised debate during the presidential campaign, Dec. 12, 2012. At that debate, Lee Jung-hee harshly criticized Park and said she joined the presidential race specifically to “bring down Park Geun-hye”, who she described as daughter of Japanese collaborator “Takagi Masao” (former President Park Chung-hee). (National Assembly photo pool)

The disbanding of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) was a Park Geun-hye “creation.” True, it was the Constitutional Court turned this tragic drama into fact, but the president is the one who supervised the project. Lacking any real results to show for her time in office, she landed the biggest one of all just in time for her second anniversary: turning back the clock on democracy by outlawing the UPP.
The ruling, Park said, was a “historic judgment that firmly preserves liberal democracy.” We’ll ignore the scholarly debate over the term “liberal democracy” for now and simply note that the decision was neither “liberal” nor “democratic.” Instead, personal freedoms and rights were trampled. Freedoms of expression and association were ruthlessly crushed, and representative democracy - based on the citizen’s right to choose - thoroughly repudiated. If Park wishes to congratulate herself on a job well done, perhaps it would better to call it a “victory for anti-Communist democracy.”
To be honest, Park’s aims in disbanding the UPP were never remotely about guarding democracy or upholding constitutional values. It’s well known that the UPP was never going to pose any serious threat to South Korean society. Indeed, it was already moribund, its political death warrant sealed with the trial of lawmaker Lee Seok-ki for conspiracy to commit insurrection. So why did Park feel compelled to deliver the coup de grace by having it broken apart? The only explanation that comes to mind is her own personal dislike and political vendetta against the party.
The Blue House seen in the distance behind the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Dec. 19, the day of the ruling to disband the Unified Progressive Party. (by Lee Jong-geun, staff photographer)
A political vendetta from the 2012 presidential election debates
When the Constitutional Court ruling was delivered, many people flashed back to the televised presidential election debate of Dec. 4, 2012. They recalled then-UPP candidate Lee Jung-hee launching a scathing attack at Park, declaring she was running as a candidate specifically to “bring down Park Geun-hye.” And they recalled Park, staring back at Lee with rage-filled eyes. The National Intelligence Service dropped the Lee Seok-ki case just in the nick of time, and Park wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass. She enlisted the Ministry of Justice to file a petition on the party’s disbanding with the Constitutional Court. She was presumably convinced that the near-uniformly conservative, pro-ruling party Constitutional Court would do what she wanted, and it didn‘t let her down. Park has likened herself to a Jindo dog. “When a Jindo bites, it doesn’t let go until it has ripped away all the flesh,” she has said. Now she’s shown just how scary she can be when someone crosses her - sinking her teeth in until the last breath has been choked out.
At the same time, she also showed that she lacks the qualities and virtues needed to be leader of a country. Tolerance, generosity, a sense of balance, consideration for political minorities, and the foresight to let bygones be bygones - no matter how hard we look, we see no sign of any of these. Most of all, this has been an utter rejection of the public’s desire to achieve reconciliation and unity - one of the most crucial tasks of our times. Instead, we see blazing hostility and petty vindictiveness against a political foe. It‘s a hostility that has serious consequences for our society.
Growing dissent, international criticisms
For now, the UPP’s disbanding is poised to cause divisions and conflict in South Korean society that will not go away easily. Supporters and opponents of the ruling will continue on parallel tracks, with no common ground between them. Already, some far-right groups, including members of the Ilbe website, have been throwing horrendous accusations against the lone dissenting Constitutional Court judge, Kim Yi-su. “Scratch him and you’ll find Jeolla underneath,” said one rightwing commenter. The behavior of immature right-wingers is deplorable, to be sure, but it’s President Park who bears the ultimate responsibility for this situation.
South Korea had already become an international laughing stock after the allegations of interference in state affairs by a secret circle of Park cronies. This ruling is only going to tarnish its image further. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both issued scathing denouncements. “This sort of draconian political tactic is the sort of thing that one would have expected from an authoritarian like her father [Park Chung-hee] decades ago, and not from the leader of the modern, democratic country that South Korea has become in the 21st century,” said Human Rights Watch. The Venice Commission, an advisory council for world constitutional court organizations, has demanded a copy of the UPP disbandment ruling, which means the decision is now set for international scrutiny. Is Park going to respond to these international criticisms the same way her father did - by talking about the “particularity” of South Korean democracy? It‘s already shameful and exasperating to see this country being singled out by the international community.
Park may be greeting the ruling with a smile of satisfaction, convinced she’s taken care of the political threat of the secret circle allegations. She may also be counting it as an opportunity to rally conservatives and rescue her sinking approval ratings. We’re already seeing signs that the administration plans to pull the reins of “public security politics” even tighter going ahead. But can it really make up for her governance mistakes and give her a fresh start? That looks highly unlikely. One reckless move tends to beget another, and it won’t be long before she‘s stuck in a quagmire even she can’t get out of. If anything’s certain about Park’s future, it’s this: she will go down forever in history with her father as leader who set a milestone in reversing democracy.
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