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[Editorial] Roh Should Apologize to the Public

Posted June. 08, 2007 04:36,   


The National Election Commission (NEC) concluded yesterday that Roh’s speech at the Government Appraisal Forum (GAF) was in violation of election laws, which require government officials to be politically neutral so that they cannot influence election outcomes. The panel issued a request for the president to abide by the election law. The president was warned 2 times by the NEC in the run-up to the 17th general elections because he did not keep political neutrality. As the head of administration, he is the one who should set an example by abiding by the law. However, he repeatedly showed his disregard for warnings from constitutional institutions. Some even say that president’s repeated breaking of laws is a crisis on the constitutional level.

The oath of office of the president starts with the sentence, “I will observe the Constitution…”Observing the Constitution is the first and foremost duty of the president as stipulated by Article 69 of the Constitution. In its historic decision on presidential impeachment back in 2004, the Constitutional Court stressed, “The authority and political power of the president are given by the Constitution. Because the Republic of Korea does not have a long democratic political history, the public does not have a strong awareness of the Constitution. Therefore, president’s willingness to protect and respect the Constitution is all the more important.” However, President Roh openly criticized the Grand National Party and its presidential hopefuls, breaking the election law. It seems he lacks the sincerity to keep his oaths.

Democracy can exist only on the basis of rule of law. A country whose president violates the law and disregards constitutional institutions is not a democracy. It is deplorable that the president openly boasts that he succeeded in rekindling the spirit of the June 10 democracy struggle and put an end to authoritarianism when he actually is trying to rule the nation by transcending the Constitution and Korea’s laws. This is the hubris of the elected power.

The election commission rejected Cheong Wa Dae`s request for Roh to be allowed to defend his remarks before the committee.

The presidential office had threatened to file a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court over the matter. Before the NEC decision, Cheong Wa Dae requested Roh to be allowed to defend his remarks and even threatened to file a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court over the matter even after a majority of constitutional scholars said the president, who is the symbol of public power, was not in a position to do so. When President Roh disregarded the NEC’s verdict that he was in breach of the election law, the Constitutional Court said in its decision on the impeachment, “That the president, who should set example for all other public officials, publicly made light of law, goes against the spirit of a constitutional state. By doing so, he fails to respect the Constitution.” However, this time, he has again put pressure on the NEC by using his position. Given the fact that basic principle of democracy is the separation of powers, with its checks and balances, the president made a mistake by apparently thinking that principles are an obstacle to running national affairs.

This newspaper thinks that in light of what the president did, the NEC’s decision was a slap on the wrist. It is even suspected that the decision was affected by Cheong Wa Dae’s threat of filing a lawsuit. This is the third time the president did not keep his political neutrality. Many in the legal profession found the president’s remarks at the GAF to be more offensive than the two remarks he made before that.

Roh did not pay heed to the warning in 2004 from both the NEC and the Constitutional Court, and this time around, he hinted that he would do the same. This time, the warning should have been stronger to make the president think before he speaks next time. It is too passive an interpretation of the Constitution that the president’s criticism of the opposition party and the party’s candidates via Internet broadcasts does not constitute a premature election campaign.

The warning by the NEC was at about the same level as the previous two. It is common sense that a second warning should be stronger than the first, and that a third should be stronger than the second. The NEC warnings are too weak and won’t do the trick.

The president should offer his sincere apology to the public and immediately disband the GAF, which prompted the controversy.