The Constitutional Court impeached Park Geun-hye last week. Questioning the decision will rage on awhile. However, what Koreans and friends of Korea must realize is the value of constitutional law and Korea’s democratic culture. As difficult a decision as the Court faced, it did face the challenge and made a ruling. A momentous case, the prosecution and defense pressed claims and counterclaims. All people who love Korea must now honor the Court’s decision. Uphold the rule of law, and the Korean polity will emerge stronger than ever.
Re-read Park Yoon-bae’s discussion of Feb. 15 in The Korea Times (“No replay of 1987 mistake”). I thought about his words when I read of the Constitutional Court’s decision. In the United States, the story plays in some odd ways. They highlight the few incidents of violence arising from protests. Some stories say the balance of U.S-Korea ties is at stake. The drama of the moment overplays the meaning for a constitutional democracy. South Korea isn’t a PG-13 movie for American consumption at a distance.
When Nixon and Clinton faced impeachment charges, no one thought the world was going to end or America’s ties with foreign governments. No one should think Korea would return to its authoritarian past. Park supporters, in particular her lawyers, may come to regret some of their statements and expressed plans to resist the results. That won’t work, and it won’t serve the national interest of South Korea. The days of Park Chung-hee and military rule have ended.
Equally important, the supporters of opposition parties to the Park government, and those who supported impeachment, must also respect the rule of law. Gloating, hating those who support Park, and scapegoating the Liberty Korea Party or Choi Soon-sil or Samsung and other conglomerates and their leaders won’t help. Civil and criminal offenses can go forward. The decision’s effects will unfold. But Korea’s democratic and constitutional culture should stand first as the public interest.
The “Candlelight Revolution” should uphold calm. Support the interim leaders in carrying out the works of government. That doesn’t mean agreeing or disagreeing with the actions but insisting the government continue. A vigorous campaign for electing the next president should capture the imaginations and concerns of all Koreans. Candidates for all party political offices have a heightened responsibility now to model toleration and common respect. Koreans don’t agree on issues, but all share a duty to select the next president.
Allies of South Korea and their leaders, including President Trump and Prime Minister Abe, should make and state messages of concern prefaced by unwavering support. One of the world’s strongest economies, and one of the region’s keys for stability and progress, deserves support from her allies and all friendly nations. Tell Koreans and South Korea they’ll pull through this time of challenge. Also, make plain that any meddling by North Korea will meet a direct response.
Korean democracy shows popular democracy in a classical sense. Critics speak of irrationality and the hoi polloi. Popular energy is flammable if not governed by a national superego. Koreans do hold power over their government, but today isn’t 1979 or 1987. The principles of the rule of law and civilian control of government must continue. Respect them while protesting for particular purposes. Invigorate popular participation in elections. Hate or applaud the Court’s action. Favor conservative or liberal political platforms. Agree or disagree with THAAD. But unite in upholding Korea’s shared constitution. Move forward and don’t obsess with the present crisis.
The world marveled at the peaceful protests and marches before the ruling. The ruling marks a critical moment, but it finally is just a moment. Keep resolved, dear friends of Korea! Protect your democracy, beginning with the rule of law! In it rests the investments of Korea’s freedom fighters past and present, and in constitutional democracy lies security and the path forward to even better days.
Bernard Rowan is associate provost for contract administration and professor of political science at Chicago State University. He is a past fellow of the Korea Foundation and former visiting professor at HanyangUniversity. Reach him at email@example.com