The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party are locking horns again over the National Intelligence Service’s alleged meddling in the 2012 presidential election.
The opposition party has repeated its demand for a special counsel investigation into the NIS scandal, following the court’s recent acquittal of Kim Yong-pan, a former Seoul police chief who was charged with impeding a police investigation of the NIS officials allegedly involved in the case.
The court justified its verdict by saying that prosecutors had presented little evidence to prove their case. Yet the ruling infuriated the DP, which was convinced of the suspect’s guilt.
The party assailed Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, asserting that prosecutors could not gather sufficient evidence because of the minister’s unwarranted interference. So it demanded that President Park Geun-hye fire the minister immediately.
On top of that, the party reiterated its long-standing demand that Park appoint an independent counsel to investigate the allegations against the spy agency and the former police official.
Some hawkish DP officials called for a boycott of the ongoing parliamentary session, as the party had done frequently last year, to pressure Park into conceding to its demands.
Yet the ruling party is dismissive of the DP’s demands. It notes that launching an independent counsel probe into a case that is being tried is nonsensical, as it would seriously undermine the legitimacy of the judiciary.
Saenuri officials slammed the DP for threatening the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. They also denounced the party for persistently attempting to negate the outcome of the presidential election.
Yet the opposition party’s anger is understandable. It is not alone in believing that Kim is guilty. The latest opinion poll shows that more than 55 percent of respondents feel that Kim is guilty, while 25 percent think otherwise.
The poll also reveals that about 54 percent of Koreans feel that appointing a special counsel is necessary for investigating the NIS scandal, while 31 percent think differently.
The poll outcome has led DP officials to suggest that while the court has ruled Kim innocent, a majority of Koreans do not feel that way in their hearts.
Yet judges do not decide based on public opinion. They decide based only on evidence. Furthermore, the Thursday ruling was a preliminary judgment. It can be overturned in the second or third trial.
It is up to the DP to choose which course of action to take. It can once again adopt the extreme strategy of boycotting the parliamentary session to pursue its goal. Or it may choose to press its demands without paralyzing the Assembly.
Whichever course it takes, one thing is clear. If it stalls legislative processes again, it will take all the blame and never be able to regain public confidence. This would be a sure way to lose the June local elections.
For the party, the best strategy may be to find innovative ways to step up pressure on the ruling party to accept its demands.
The ruling party, for its part, would do well to heed the poll outcome. Although it is the court that decides on the NIS and Kim cases, the party should not ignore public opinion. It is advised to take steps before its indifference to public sentiment outrages too many people.