South Korean President Moon Jae-in Wednesday named Lee Yong-gu, former judge and a deputy justice minister for legal affairs, as new vice justice minister who will head the disciplinary committee for Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl on behalf of Justice Minister Choo mi-ae. President Moon expressed his determination to punish Prosecutor General Yoon by appointing Lee only a day after Vice Justice Minister Koh Kee-young submitted his resignation in protest against disciplinary action on Yoon.
President Moon and the ruling party, however, are going against the rule of law and public sentiment. Seoul Administrative Court’s decision to lift Yoon’s suspension provided clear judicial standards on the relationship between the justice minister and the prosecutor general. The point is Justice Minister should exercise minimum command and supervision when it comes to Prosecutor General, whose term in office is guaranteed by law, to protect the independence and political neutrality of the prosecution. The judiciary sent a message that this is not limited to the exclusion of duties, as the ruling party wishes it to be, but can be applied to dismissal resulting from abuse of power and forced disciplinary actions.
The ruling party should understand that President Moon’s lame-duck period will begin not if it backs down now but if it pushes ahead with punishing Prosecutor General Yoon. There is a high chance that the court will accept an injunction requested by Yoon to lift his suspension if the ruling bloc moves ahead with disciplinary actions against him. It will be like authorizing the destruction of constitutionalism even in the domain of judicial decision-making as well as a failure to remove Yoon. With almost all prosecutors protesting the disciplinary actions against Yoon, the first and second deputy prosecutor of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office tendered their resignation Wednesday following the assistant director of the prosecution and the vice justice minister. The public will lose their confidence in the administration if it does not hesitate to conduct lawless actions even though the officials close to Choo turned their back on her and those in legal practice and the legal academia have opposed to punishing Yoon.
President Moon’s determination for prosecutorial reform is understandable but if he gets trapped in the false perception that Yoon needs to be removed in order to complete prosecutorial reform, Moon could be stigmatized as a president obsessed with taking control of the prosecution. The ruling bloc should escape from the perception that backing down will be the end of them. Even if the president is elected by voters, abiding by the law and running state affairs within the boundary of law is what constitutionalism is about. President Moon and the ruling bloc should stop their reckless political gambling and make their decision now. It is the duty of President Moon to withdraw his bid to punish Prosecutor General Yoon, dismiss Justice Minister Choo for destroying constitutionalism, and make an apology to people.