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Ex-presidents' pardon debate continues within DP despite strong objection from base supporters

This file photo shows Democratic Party Chairman Lee Nak-yon (R) arriving at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sunday, ahead of a meeting with senior members of the party. (Yonhap)
This file photo shows Democratic Party Chairman Lee Nak-yon (R) arriving at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sunday, ahead of a meeting with senior members of the party. (Yonhap)
The political debate over the idea of offering pardons to two convicted former presidents continued to reverberate within the ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Tuesday, despite an earlier backlash from the party's base supporters.

DP Chairman Lee Nak-yon stated Friday that he would ask President Moon Jae-in to grant pardons to Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak -- two former conservative presidents in jail on corruption and influence-peddling charges -- at an appropriate time in order to transcend partisanship and promote national unity.

The comments made on New Year's Day, however, have been received with strong objections from the base supporters of the DP and the president, and even prominent lawmakers within the party. On Sunday, the DP leadership held an emergency meeting and agreed that the two former presidents displaying remorse is important in this matter.

On Tuesday, key DP members continued to weigh whether the party leader's suggestion was appropriate and came from good intentions. Despite the backlash, some suggested that it was only a matter of time before the idea became a national topic.

"It was only a matter of time before the issue of pardoning the two former presidents was raised. It's a topic that could not have been avoided (sooner or later)," Rep. Hong Ik-pyo, the DP's head of policy, said in a KBS radio interview,

"The public rage during the past candlelight vigils (against the previous Park administration) hasn't subsided," added Hong, while also admitting that there are also growing criticisms against the current government. "We must deliberate on the topic of pardon while addressing those problems," he said.

Regarding Lee's surprise comments, Hong said the DP chief wasn't someone who "tests the waters" for political gain. "As a politician, he's taken a loss (from making the statement). I don't think he made that judgment for campaigning or personal political interests."

DP Rep. Kim Han-jung said he believed Lee "did what he had to do as the leader of the party."

In a CBS radio interview, the lawmaker said Moon would likely share his opinion on the "national controversy" in a New Year's press conference presumably scheduled for mid-January.

Kim Young-choon, the former National Assembly secretary general preparing to run in the Busan mayoral by-election in April, meanwhile, said he thinks that swing voters and the general public are mostly indifferent or don't have an opinion one way or the other on the topic.

"Even after a Supreme Court ruling (on Park is made later this month), I believe that much of the public sentiment centers around the idea that pardons can be offered only when apologies or public remorse are expressed," Kim said.

Park Soo-hyun, the former Cheong Wa Dae spokesman and the current head of DP's public communications committee, noted that the president may end up in a political bind over the pardon debate, depending on whether his supposed New Year's press conference is held before or after the Jan. 14 Supreme Court sentencing on Park Geun-hye.

"If President Moon's press conference is held before Jan. 14, he could simply respond by saying 'we'll have to wait for the final ruling.' But he must offer a more developed response (if the conference is held later than the sentencing)," Park said. (Yonhap)
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