Compiled photo of former Presidents Park Geun-hye (left) and Lee Myung-bak (Individual photos courtesy of Yonhap)
The suggestion from ruling Democratic Party of Korea leader Rep. Lee Nak-yon that President Moon Jae-in grant presidential pardons to his two immediate predecessors is blossoming into yet another controversy, with backlash from both the ruling and opposition blocs.
On New Year’s Day, Lee raised the question of granting pardons to the two imprisoned ex-presidents -- Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye -- telling reporters that he would propose it to President Moon at an appropriate time.
“It could be a big key to national unity,” he had said in an earlier media interview.
Lee’s comment, interpreted by some as a ploy to gain an edge as a presidential hopeful, drew immediate backlash from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
Faced with strong resistance, Lee convened an emergency meeting of the party’s supreme council on Sunday, hoping to persuade the lawmakers. But he took a step back after the meeting, telling reporters he would wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in Park’s case, set for Jan. 14.
Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Lee Nak-yon leaves the office after a closed-door meeting of the supreme council on the pardon of ex-presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Choi In-ho, chief spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the party agreed that it was important to pardon former Presidents Lee and Park if they reflected on their crimes.
Cheong Wa Dae did not take an official position. In May 2019 Moon had said, “It is difficult to ask for a pardon before the trial is finalized.”
In political circles, Lee’s endeavors to obtain pardons for political figures are being interpreted as attempts to turn the tide for the presidential election. The presidential hopeful has recently shown a clear decline in polls on potential future presidential candidates. Previously atop the polls, he has now fallen behind fellow ruling party member Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi Province, and Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl.
With President Moon’s disapproval ratings reaching their highest level in recent days, if Lee gains support from opposition party supporters through “integrative leadership,” it could strengthen his presence as a presidential candidate, politics watchers said.
The problem is that his bid has ended in failure within just a few days. Voices of criticism have come from both inside and outside his party.
Former judge and Democratic Party Rep. Lee Soo-jin said on her Facebook page that “the only people in favor of the pardon (for ex-presidents) are the Pro-Park (Geun-hye) rallies and certain politicians aiming for a political lottery.” She added, “I understand Lee’s agony, but it is premature.”
Other ruling party lawmakers, including Ahn Min-seok, Park Joo-min, Kang Deuk-gu and Kim Nam-guk, also openly expressed their opposition.
The main opposition People Power Party expressed “strong regret” toward the Democratic Party and Lee.
People Power Party spokesman Bae Joon-young asked, “Is it normal to take the pardon issue of former presidents as light as a feather?”
Rep. Jang Je-won of the same party said, “I can’t get rid of the feeling of being ridiculed as he changed his words less than 48 hours after he brought up the former presidents’ pardon.”
Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the minor opposition People’s Party, said it is not desirable to advocate pardons for the purpose of winning an election. He said, “A pardon is under the authority of the president. It is right for the president to express his thoughts to the public.”
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org