The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is accelerating its move to strip the prosecution of all of its investigation powers -- a highly controversial issue that is roiling political circles and sparking heated opposition from prosecutors.
At the heart of the dispute is that the ruling party can -- and regrettably will -- abuse its supermajority position at the National Assembly to railroad the related bill to change the country’s prosecution system once and for all.
If the bill is unilaterally passed, the investigation power of prosecution for six types of crimes will be transferred to a new state agency. This will render the prosecution’s power seriously diminished, paving the way for an entirely new system to tackle serious crimes, including those committed by high-ranking public officials.
Critics claim that this grave issue should be fully discussed, especially as the country is scheduled to see the launch of a new administration led by President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.
In 2021, Yoon, then prosecutor general, slammed the ruling party’s plan to deprive the prosecution of its investigation rights, calling it “the retrogression of democracy and the destruction of the constitutional spirit.”
At the time, Yoon stressed that the investigative power vacuum that would be created by the bill would only benefit those with political and economic powers.
Even though Yoon is set to take office on May 10 and his views about the role of the prosecution have growing support, the outlook is not so optimistic for those who want to keep the prosecution’s core functions intact.
The Legislation and Judiciary Committee is composed of 12 lawmakers from the ruling party and six members from the main opposition People Power Party. As this majority is not enough to force legislation through, the ruling party has taken an extraordinary step of securing support from Rep. Yang Hyang-ja, an independent lawmaker. As Yang was a member of the Democratic Party of Korea, she is expected to support the ruling party’s position if the bill is submitted to the Agenda Coordination Committee.
In other words, the opposition party cannot block the ruling party from passing the bill through the Legislation and Judiciary Committee and then the plenary session.
Why is the ruling party in a hurry to railroad the bill aimed at overhauling the prosecution’s powers? Some political observers said the move during the transition period, which could likely touch off a wave of criticism., is politically motivated.
The idea that the prosecution’s power should be curtailed stems from the country’s not-so-proud political history. The prosecution has often come under fire for abusing its investigation power in the process of serving incumbent administrations, targeting opposition party figures and critics of the ruling parties, even though it was supposed to maintain political neutrality.
As a result, many of the country’s politicians have long been keen to manipulate its investigation rights out of political revenge or furtherance of their own interests.
But the opponents of the bill claim that if the prosecution’s rights are reduced to just warrant requests and indictments, it will harm the public interest. Despite criticism piled on it in the past, there is no doubt that the prosecution is the nation’s best-qualified investigative agency, armed with unparalleled know-how and capability.
It is also understandable that prosecutors are reacting strongly to the ruling party’s move. But prosecutors should do some soul-searching about why the bill was first floated before issuing their official position.
Given the gravity and long-term impact of the bill, both ruling and opposition parties are urged to discuss the issue in detail and work together to come up with a better solution that best serves the public.
By Korea Herald (email@example.com