Con­fronta­tional pol­i­tics

Pres­i­dent re­spon­si­ble for po­lit­i­cal chaos to­day

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

One of the coun­try’s largest po­lit­i­cal ral­lies in re­cent years was held in cen­tral Seoul, Thurs­day, de­mand­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Jus­tice Min­is­ter Cho Kuk as well as Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in.

The rally, or­ga­nized by the main op­po­si­tion Lib­erty Korea Party (LKP) and af­fil­i­ated con­ser­va­tive forces, took place four days after a sep­a­rate demon­stra­tion was held in south­ern Seoul in sup­port of Cho and his pros­e­cu­tion re­form drive. Cho’s sup­port­ers plan to gather on the streets near the Supreme Prose­cu­tors’ Of­fice again to­day.

Given that Cho has be­come the flash­point of a fierce ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle here, the pro- and anti-Cho ral­lies may con­tinue as long as he re­mains in of­fice. This does not mean Cho should re­sign, but it would be al­most im­pos­si­ble for him to carry out re­form prop­erly. The sim­mer­ing po­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tion is also emerg­ing as a huge risk for Pres­i­dent Moon.

The grim re­al­ity is that even if Cho leaves, that would not be the end of the story. Moon could be thrown into deeper trou­ble. He ab­so­lutely needs an exit plan be­fore the ide­o­log­i­cal con­flict spi­rals out of con­trol.

In terms of scale, the anti-Cho rally was larger than ex­pected. Even though we can hardly trust the or­ga­niz­ers’ claim that the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants reached up to 3 mil­lion — some even said 20 mil­lion — it was truly the largest demon­stra­tion in cen­tral Seoul since the can­dlelit protests in 2016 that led to Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye’s im­peach­ment.

Some lib­eral politi­cians played down the rally, claim­ing that many par­tic­i­pants had been “paid” to take part, and that the pro­test­ers were mainly el­derly peo­ple who had grudges to­ward the lib­eral gov­ern­ment and sym­pa­thized with the ousted for­mer pres­i­dent. But this per­cep­tion is bi­ased, and will only make the prob­lem worse.

Moon went ahead with Cho’s ap­point­ment as jus­tice min­is­ter de­spite cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing him and his fam­ily, and protests from con­ser­va­tives, with the firm con­vic­tion that Cho was the best choice to com­plete the ju­di­cial re­form, one of the lib­eral Pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties.

But for the past months, Moon has failed to reach out to op­po­nents, and has largely been ig­no­rant of their voices, caus­ing crit­i­cism from con­ser­va­tives that he was tak­ing the path of a “dic­ta­tor.” At Thurs­day’s rally, par­tic­i­pants chanted slo­gans such as “Dic­ta­tor Moon, get out!” and “Ar­rest Cho Kuk.”

The rally should serve as a wake-up call for Moon, who will be half­way through his five-year term next month. This is not just be­cause the anti-Cho rally could de­velop into a big­ger anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tion. Ar­guably, Moon is the one who should take the big­gest re­spon­si­bil­ity for the po­lit­i­cal chaos to­day.

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