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[Editorial] Clean up the mess

Cheong Wa Dae ought to overhaul its petition website

The ongoing petition race between supporters of the ruling party and the main opposition party should serve as yet another wake-up call for Cheong Wa Dae and prompt the overhaul of its civil petition site.

The race began with a petition calling for the disbandment of the Liberty Korea Party, which had at one point physically blocked the ruling Democratic Party and its allied minor opposition parties from going through with a recent move to railroad four fast-track bills through two parliamentary panels.

The petition was quickly followed by another, this one demanding the disbandment of the ruling party. Supporters of both petitions have been growing in number.

The most preposterous aspect of this ridiculous situation is that the presidential office is the wrong institution to handle any petition for the dissolution of a political party. That’s the job of the Constitutional Court.

This petition race simply illustrates that the Cheong Wa Dae petition website has become a free-for-all platform -- a place to instigate ill-advised, illegitimate political campaigns and express antagonism, hatred, anger and bias.

Looking at some of the petitions registered with the website, which proudly declares that “People Ask and Government Answers,” one cannot help but shake one’s head.

The petition race between the Democratic Party and the Liberty Korea Party has given birth to offspring. There is a petition asking the president to have the floor leader of the main opposition party, Rep. Na Kyung-won, shave her head. It’s an obvious attempt to make a mockery of the opposition leader and half a dozen Liberty Korea Party lawmakers, who had their heads shaven to protest the railroading of the four fast-track bills.

In yet another ludicrous case, a petitioner demanded that President Moon be impeached. Not surprisingly, there is another petition calling for the extension of the president’s term of office. Again, the impeachment of a president is a matter to be handled by the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court.

Clearly, the Cheong Wa Dae petition site has become a forum where anyone can make unwarranted petitions that are really nothing more than unfounded attacks, defamatory statements, false accusations and distortions of the truth.

In a sense, the site has served a positive function since the presidential office opened it on Aug. 19, 2017, to mark the 100th day of the Moon government.

Setting up an easily accessible communication channel between the president and citizens was its raison d’etre, with Cheong Wa Dae promising that relevant officials would not fail to respond to any petition or proposal with at least 200,000 supporters.

Some petitions lived up to the expectations of the Moon Cheong Wa Dae and the people, like one calling for tougher punishment of drunken driving. A petition submitted by people close to the victim in a prominent drunken driving case was the driving force behind legislative action to mete out heavy punishment for people who take the steering wheel under the influence of alcohol.

Indeed, it is good for a government to try to listen to the people and reflect their views in its administrative policies -- to help redress various problems in society and come to the aid of the underprivileged and those who suffer injustice.

But as the petitions that followed the parliamentary dispute over the fast-track bills showed, problems with the Cheong Wa Dae site have reached an absurd level.

The biggest problem is that the site lacks an effective mechanism to filter out improper petitions and proposals, allowing it to become an outlet for unleashing personal grudges, anger and hatred, as well as politically motived allegations and accusations.

As a matter of fact, the site announces that its operator is entitled to remove posts with abusive or foul language, expressions of hatred toward certain groups, posts that infringe on others’ privacy, false accusations and defamatory comments.

But the guidelines are too vague and generous and are not sufficient to filter out inappropriate petitions and proposals. The site requires an overhaul so that it can be reborn as a genuine, effective channel for communication between the president and the people.

That there is even a petition to shut down the site should be a painful reminder for Moon and his Cheong Wa Dae aides involved in the operation of the site.