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Candidates to accept Park ruling

Sole exception is Lee Jae-myung, who insists on her removal
Mar 02,2017
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Most presidential wannabes unequivocally say they will respect the Constitutional Court’s ruling on President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment - whichever way it goes - except for Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, who says people should protest if the court doesn’t remove her from office.

In a survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday, all major candidates except Lee said they will accept the outcome of the Constitutional Court’s deliberation on whether to remove the president from power.

That decision is expected to be made by March 13, when Justice Lee Jung-mi, one of the court’s current eight justices, is scheduled to retire.

South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung from the Democratic Party(DP), who is running second in public opinion polls for this year’s election, indicated a shift in position in the Tuesday survey, saying he would respect the court’s ruling regardless of the outcome. The 52-year-old governor previously declined to say whether he would respect the ruling no matter what.

An noted that he would express his “profound regret” if the court reinstates Park to power.

Frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, who enjoys a 30-percent range approval rating, also signaled a softening of his stance, saying he had “no choice but to accept the decision by the Constitutional Court as a politician.” That was a departure from a remark last year. The human rights lawyer-turned-politician said then if the court struck down the impeachment motion, it would inevitably lead to a “people’s revolution,” sparking criticism from rivals that he was inciting unrest.

Moon pointed out Tuesday that the people will not accept a ruling reinstating Park even if politicians did.

Lee, also a Democrat, is the only contender who says he will not accept the court’s ruling if it does not remove Park from power. He says he will wage a public campaign urging people to protest and reject the ruling.

“People are not blindly bound by a political decision by eight court justices,” said the two-term mayor, “If the court wrecks the principles of the republic, then people should hold it accountable for its dereliction of duty and protest against it.”

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party agreed with the other contenders that politicians should respect the decision by the eight judges unconditionally.

The contenders also widely agreed that criminal prosecution of President Park, if she is forced out of office, should proceed in accordance with the rule of law.

“Whether or not President Park should be arrested and detained is up to the judicial branch to decide,” said Moon, who lost to Park by a margin of 3.53 percent in the 2012 presidential race.

Seongnam Mayor Lee again offered a contrary view, proclaiming the president deserves tougher legal punishment than a common person in consideration of the power and responsibility she wielded as head of state.

“We need to apply a stringent criminal standard on the president considering the excessive power she had enjoyed,” said the mayor, who rose to political stardom late last year thanks to his blunt and scathing criticisms of President Park at the early stage of the so-called Choi-gate scandal. “We need to show the people the principle that those who are guilty of crimes must be prosecuted no matter who they are,” Lee continued.

During many appearances at anti-Park rallies in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square, the mayor remarked that Park should be arrested and detained the very moment she steps outside the Blue House after the Constitutional Court forces her out of power.

Former statesmen were also unified in voicing their support for the Constitutional Court, saying the public and politicians should respect the rule of law under any circumstances.

Lee Hong-koo, former prime minster, noted that disregarding the court’s judgment would be the equivalent of “violating the Constitution” and would lead to “undermining the foundation of Korean society as a whole.”

Park Kwan-yong, former National Assembly speaker, opined that politicians should refrain from attending rallies either for and against the president after the court’s ruling.

“Politicians must not engage in activities in protest of the Constitutional Court,” said the retired politician.

Former speaker Park and another former assembly speaker Kim Hyong-o agreed that the best way forward for Park is for her to step down voluntarily before the verdict. The two former speakers said doing so would minimize confusion and disorder.

Kim Hwang-sik, a former prime minister, said the next president must reach out to people on both ends of the ideological spectrum to strive for national unity.

“Whoever becomes the next president, he or she must put in efforts to communicate and compromise. If he or she only seeks to divide people based on their political leanings, the next administration is destined to fail,” warned Kim.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]