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How special pardon for ex-President Park may affect March election

Opposition parties call Moon’s decision a political move aimed at creating divide, while ruling party concerned of disappointed supporters

A placard, which reads “President Park Geun-hye Acquittal and Discharge,” is installed by Our Republican Party, a far-right political party in Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)
A placard, which reads “President Park Geun-hye Acquittal and Discharge,” is installed by Our Republican Party, a far-right political party in Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)
With just 75 days before the presidential election, the government’s decision to grant special pardon to former President Park Geun-hye on Friday has risen as a factor that may sway the results of the election.

While the main opposition People Power Party welcomed the pardon of their former leader, key party members criticized President Moon Jae-in for making a “political move” to create a divide in the conservative bloc, ahead of the presidential election slated for March.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea appears to be concerned that Moon’s decision to grant pardon to his predecessor, who was taken down for power abuse and corruption, would disappoint its supporters.

For the People Power Party, which has chosen former Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol as its flagbearer for the presidential election in March, Park’s stance toward the candidate would be a critical factor that would either pull together support or divide the party.

For one, Yoon was the lead prosecutor investigating the massive corruption scandal which ultimately brought down Park and eventually landed her in prison in 2017, after she was impeached in the year before.

In 2013, Yoon had also conducted investigations into allegations that the National Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency, sought to influence public opinion to run in favor of Park ahead of the December 2012 presidential election.

Raising ire of the Park administration, Yoon was demoted after revealing that he also received outside pressure to water down the probe.

With the series of events between Yoon and Park in the backdrop, Park’s pardon may be able to influence the opinions of supporters for the conservative party who could seek to fix the blame on Yoon for Park’s fall.

After the announcement, Yoon said he welcomes the special pardon for Park, and also wished for her fast recovery in health.

Yoon also said it was not his decision to turn down Park’s request for suspension of execution, which was made twice in 2019, as she cited poor health conditions.

Yoon was the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, and then prosecutor general when a prosecution panel reviewed Park’s requests.

At the same time, the president’s decision may also come as a burden for the ruling Democratic Party which came into power from the fall of the Park administration.

Moon garnered a landslide victory in the 2017 presidential election following the impeachment of Park, who came in at the center of the massive corruption scandal that brought tens of thousands of people to the streets.

The liberal bloc had also gained great support then, making pledges that their administration would be completely different from the corrupt government under Park.

Lee Jae-myung, the ruling party’s presidential candidate said he “respects” Moon’s decision. Just a couple of days ago, Lee had opposed granting special pardons for former presidents of the conservative blocs, saying it is “too early,” and that the former leaders should make sincere apologies for their wrongdoings.

The presidential office rejected claims that Moon’s decision to grant amnesty to Park is politically aimed.

“We don’t know which side (of the political parties) would benefit (from Park’s pardon). But I am sure the government did not consider the presidential election,” an official from the presidential office said.

“If the government were to consider the political implications, wouldn’t there have been better times to do it?” the official said, adding that the president did ask the ruling party in making Friday’s decision.

The official also said the exclusion of Lee Myung-bak in the special pardon list is because “the cases (of Park and Lee) are different.”

Park, who served as the president from 2013-17, is currently serving a 22-year prison term for charges including abuse of power and bribery. Her predecessor Lee is serving a 17-year sentence for similar charges.

According to a Gallup Korea poll last month, 44 percent of respondents agreed to granting amnesty to the two former presidents, while 48 percent opposed it.

For more information regarding the survey results go to the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp,com)

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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