‘Cho Kuk’s resignation did not douse ideological flames’

By Kim Arin

Liberals press for judicial reform, conservatives applaud prosecutors

  • Published : Oct 19, 2019 - 21:24
  • Updated : Oct 21, 2019 - 19:33

As controversies surrounding his family peaked, Cho Kuk resigned as justice minister on Monday, but protests continued, both for and against President Moon Jae-in’s key aide.

A pro-Cho group called Gaegukbon -- a Korean acronym for People’s Brawl Movement Headquarters -- kicked off its 10th demonstration at 5 p.m. Saturday, this time in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido. Its former gatherings took place at the prosecution office district in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul.

Two days after Cho’s Cabinet departure on Wednesday, the group said it would resume rallying “every Saturday for an indefinite period” outside the parliament building, flip-flopping last week’s announcement that Oct. 12 would be its final demonstration.

Protesters gather at the boulevard before the parliament building’s main gate on Saturday. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

“Abolish the Liberty Korea Party. Reform the prosecution. Fix the media,” chants echoed across the boulevard before the main gate of the home of the parliament from late afternoon into evening.

“Who opposes the prosecution’s reform? The Liberty Korea Party,” one of the rally’s organizers said, addressing the crowd.

”We are not going anywhere until we see the reform bill passed in parliament, and if the Liberty Korea hampers it, we will be there to judge them in next year’s general election.”

A pro-Roh Moo-hyun union -- a deep-rooted faction within the Democratic Party support base -- held a considerable presence at the demonstration, bestrewing the rally scene with yellow balloons and placards, a color representing the late president. The protesters brandished banners with faces of their three liberal heroes: Cho, Moon, and Roh.

“To be honest, this is 2009 all over again,” Jung Jae-heon, 38, told The Korea Herald, referring to the prosecutors’ probe of allegations involving former president Roh’s family. Roh’s suicide in 2009 put an end to the investigation into his family.

Jung, a Gaegukbon member, said he was at every Seocho-dong rally.

“I was shocked when I heard minister Cho was stepping down, but considering the ransacking of his family by the prosecution and the media, it is not a surprise,” he said. “The media report at the prosecutors’ dictation, without fact-checking.”

The Moon supporter likened Cho’s departure from cabinet to Roh’s impeachment in 2004.

“This is exactly like what happened with President Roh, and we are not going to let history repeat itself with President Moon and Minister Cho.”

Protesters wave banners with faces of Cho, Moon and Roh. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

Ku Woo-min, 61, said the prosecution’s investigation into Cho family was “excessive” and “biased.”

“They are tearing a family apart to pieces over petty allegations. It is hard for me not to suspect political motivations on the prosecutors’ part.”

Another protester Lee Yong-ok, 58, said Cho’s family should face the probe fairly and equally.

“I don’t identify as either a liberal or a conservative. I’m here today against the establishment prosecutors, one of the most powerful institutions in this country, and yet whose powers are not wielded justly,” Lee said.

“That being said, the prosecutors should not go easy on the (former) justice minister’s family because of who they are. (Cho’s wife) Chung Kyung-shim’s health issues should not interfere with the ongoing probe, just as it wouldn’t for any other ordinary citizen,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Liberty Korea Party held a counter-rally in Gwanghwamun the same day afternoon, the third demonstration at the city’s central square to date.

“Cho may be gone. But this is only the beginning of undoing the damage done by the Moon administration,” said Rep. Jeong Yong-ki. “We are still waiting for President Moon’s apology for all the ruckus and division inflicted on this country by his appointment of Cho.”

“The president is pressuring the prosecutors, who are probing the corruption scandal surrounding the minister, and it is not right. The Cho scandal should not stop at his resignation. Cho should be arrested.”

Liberty Korea Party leadership including Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn and Floor Leader Na Kyung-won were present at the rally.

Conservatives led by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party hold an anti-government rally in Gwanghwamun in Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap)

Allegations ranging from financial malfeasance to cheating in daughter’s school admissions erupted following Cho’s nomination as justice minister on Aug. 9, inviting a huge backlash from the opposition camp as well as ruling party supporters.

Moon went ahead with Cho’s appointment on Sept. 6 nonetheless, a decision which led to weeks of partisan polarization.

“Liberals weren’t able to save Cho, which had been the top agenda of their weekly rallies. But they are not going to let Cho’s mission of prosecution reform slide,” political commentator Rhee Jong-hoon told The Korea Herald.

“This is why they have moved their protest site to Yeouido, because the ball is now in the parliament’s court with the reform bills pending,” Rhee said. “They are making that message ring loud and clear for the conservative politicians who may obstruct the bill’s passage.”

The pro-Cho rally organizer’s media communications staffer Kim Sang-ho told The Korea Herald they were not doing a turnout count. “We are not counting number of attendance. Because this is not about the numbers,” he said. Police also declined to provide an estimate.

By Kim Arin (