April 09, 2018 13:13
Ex-President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison last Friday, convicted of most of the criminal charges against her, including bribery and extortion. The ruling was widely expected. Although the court did not say so, perhaps Park's biggest offense was allowing her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to meddle in government while she sat cooped up in her office talking to practically nobody and going quietly gaga. Park expended most of her flagging energy on trying to cover up the problems caused by her closeted leadership style, stubbornness being the most distinctive trait of this strangely blank woman. The public were increasingly dumbfounded by the sheer absurdity of her rule.
The process of meting out justice has now been completed. She will appeal, but that is largely believed to be futile. What matters now is what lessons to learn from the events. Every president of this country, Syngman Rhee to Park Geun-hye has left in disgrace. They resigned, were murdered, impeached, committed suicide, jailed or at least mired in corruption scandals. Their transgressions cannot simply be blamed on their personal failures. It was the fusion of an American-style presidential system with Korea's characteristic system of patronage and deference that resulted in a near-regal presidency. And every king or queen has come to a sticky end.
At the center of the tragic fates of past presidents is the prosecution. Prosecutors have always been loyal servants of incumbent presidents to maintain their power, but once a president's term ended, they hounded the past leader to live up to the expectations of their new boss. This can be seen most clearly in the fates of Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak.
This time prosecutors went way overboard in their investigation, afraid that the police could take their place. Prosecutors have indicted almost 40 people who were close to Park, even excluding business executives and public servants. It was a major dragnet operation. The total duration of sentences meted out by the court of first instance stands at close to 110 years so far, which is rare in this world and reminiscent of the bloody purges of the Chosun Dynasty hundreds of years ago.
Cheong Wa Dae said it was "painful" for the nation to watch the sentencing Park and vowed never to forget what happened last Friday. But to ensure that, the Moon Jae-in administration must reform key organizations like the prosecution, police, National Tax Service and Board of Audit and Inspection and give up the right to appoint their personnel. Is it willing to go that deep?
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