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Lessons from Park’s trial

May 24,2017
There can be no South Koreans whose hearts were not heavy on Tuesday after watching the historic trial at the Seoul Central District Court of former President Park Geun-hye over an unprecedented abuse of power scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil. The former president appeared at an open court room with prisoner number 503 inscribed on her lapel. Her signature, up-swept hairstyle looked pretty awkward because there was no one to help her and clumsy plastic jailhouse clips had to be used. When a judge asked about her occupation, she tersely said, “I don’t have any.”

Park’s dramatic fall from grace was impressive — and powerful — enough to mull over the vicissitudes of power for humanity. Serving as head of state only a few months ago, she was ousted from power by a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court on March 10. She now has to go through the painful procedure of criminal trials over as many as 18 charges after she was arrested by the prosecution two months ago.

Former President Park encountered her friend of 40 years Choi after eight months in court Tuesday. Choi’s bribery trial was merged with Park’s because of overlapping charges and witnesses. Choi was indicted by an independent counsel for colluding with Park in the scandal. Park is known to have urged Choi in October to return to South Korea from Germany, saying, “This crisis can only be resolved when you come back as soon as possible.”

But the former president turned her face from Choi and looked straight ahead in court as if trying to deny their long and deep relationship. This could be seen as a sign of her residual bitterness with her longtime friend.

The first hearing in the trial has pulled back a curtain and told some of the truth behind the shameful scandal. The court must proceed with the trial without any prejudice, particularly given the significance of the case that led to the first-ever impeachment and detention of an incumbent president in the history of our democracy. We welcome the court’s decision to merge the two trials — despite former President Park’s request to separate them — and its pledge to reach a ruling as fairly as possible after thorough deliberations.

It is an irony that former President Park stood in the same courtroom as former presidents Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo Hwan as they faced charges of corruption more than two decades ago. Such a national tragedy should not be repeated at any time. We hope the Park-Choi trial offers priceless lessons for our presidents in the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30