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Military was ready to ensure martial law

July 25,2018
In the midst of last year’s impeachment unrest, the military was more than prepared to implement martial law and had a list of lawmakers sorted into liberal and conservative as part of a plan to revoke the powers of the National Assembly, according to a document made public by the Ministry of National Defense on Monday.

The 67-page plan offers details on how the military intended to take over the country under the assumption that mobs would overrun streets if the Constitutional Court ruled against then-President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment.

Under the premise that chaos would ensue if Park was allowed to remain in power, the military’s intelligence unit, the Defense Security Command, drafted the document days before the ruling in March.

The court ultimately ruled to remove Park from office, and the military did not go through with its plan, but the revelation of its existence earlier this month showed the startling level at which the military was prepared to enact martial law.

To thwart a possible attempt to revoke martial law in the legislature, the Defense Security Command categorized National Assembly members into liberals and conservatives. A source in the military who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the command intended to detain liberal lawmakers who were likely to vote against martial law.

Around 160 lawmakers were classified as liberal and 130 as conservative. The Defense Security Command did not name them. At the time of the document’s creation, the liberal camp included 121 Democratic Party lawmakers and six Justice Party lawmakers. The military apparently included some lawmakers from Park’s own party who voted for her impeachment.

In response to the revelation, Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, said on Monday that her party would “hold everyone involved accountable for crimes such as rebellion under the Military Criminal Act,” calling the scheme a “crime of historic proportions.”

To revoke martial law, a majority of 300 lawmakers need to vote it down. The document showed that the military had a plan to keep martial law in place by preventing the National Assembly speaker from directly introducing a bill on the floor.

The military also had a plan to dissuade lawmakers in Park’s party from voting to revoke martial law. It also sought to arrest opposition lawmakers for organizing protests by defining holding a rally as an “anti-state activity,” a tactic deployed by past military governments.

The Defense Security Command declared the Army’s chief of staff as the commander, bypassing the Joint Chief of Staff. According to the contingency plan, the reasoning behind martial law was “to restore public security in order to protect the lives and property of the people, and end the national crisis from nationwide protests in the wake of the court’s ruling on impeachment.” The statement was to be signed by the president or acting president, who at the time was Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

South Korea has had nine cases of martial law in its history. The last period began on Oct. 27, 1979, a day after the assassination of strongman Park Chung Hee, and ended on Jan. 24, 1981, under his authoritarian successor Chun Doo Hwan.

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