The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Political abuse

Opposition pushes through motion to oust minister who did nothing illegal 

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 10, 2023 - 05:30

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The majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea and two minor parties pushed a motion to impeach Interior Minister Lee Sang-min through the National Assembly on Wednesday.

It is the nation’s first-ever impeachment of a Cabinet member. He was suspended from his duties immediately.

There were great concerns that the impeachment was inappropriate in many respects, but the Democratic Party shut its ears. The relationship between the ruling People Power Party and the Democratic Party will be further strained. Bills for the livelihoods of the public will likely go adrift, and setbacks to major pending projects of the ministry have become inevitable.

The Democratic Party processed the unconvincing and unjustifiable motion on the back of its large majority in the Assembly. It was an act of tyranny by the majority party.

The party cited that Lee as a minister in charge of disaster and safety failed to respond properly to the Seoul Halloween crowd crush on the night of Oct. 29 last year.

It argued that he neglected his duty to respond to the accident in “good faith” and also the duty to “maintain dignity” as a senior public official by victimizing the bereaved families a second time through his comments.

These are unconvincing reasons for impeachment. By the party's standard, the Interior Minister should be impeached every time a large accident happens.

It is hard to deny that Lee is morally and politically responsible, but whether he should take legal responsibility is a wholly different matter.

A Cabinet member can be impeached for violating the constitution and the law. The Constitution specifies a senior official can be impeached for committing grave illegal acts such as corruption and abuse of power, not for issues with good faith and dignity.

Investigations found no evidence of Lee committing illegalities. If good faith and dignity are reasons for impeachment, few in the Cabinet could avoid impeachment.

Some lawmakers of the party are said to have expressed concerns about a potential backlash from passing the motion despite its apparent failure to meet statutory criteria. And yet the party leadership put it to a vote in the general session of the Assembly.

Constitutional scholars see the chance of the Constitutional Court approving the motion as slim. The Democratic Party is probably well aware Lee’s actions are not subject to impeachment, and that gaining the Constitutional Court’s endorsement is a long shot.

Nevertheless, the party pushed it through. It seems that the party intends to highlight the responsibility of the administration under President Yoon Suk Yeol for the incident and make an issue of the impeachment at least until the Constitutional Court's ruling.

It may expect the issue to distract the public from the imminent arrest and indictment of its leader Lee Jae-myung over an array of allegations. However, that seems unlikely, considering the impeachment was of a minister, not a president. The National Assembly has a record of passing presidential impeachment motions on two occasions -- one for President Roh Moo-hyun and the other for President Park Geun-hye.

The Democratic Party has vented its anger against the prosecution whenever an occasion arose, even when it was conducting appropriate investigations. Its apparent motive to push for the impeachment of a minister close to President Yoon is to fire back against the prosecution's investigations and to take the initiative of the political situation by disturbing the Yoon administration.

The Interior Ministry has weighty tasks to complete, including ones to achieve the balanced development of provinces, improve a nationwide safety system and innovate government services.

Most of the jobs need cooperation with other ministries, so the presence of the minister matters. It is hard to expect an acting minister to show sufficient policy initiative. The government and the ruling party need to work closely to minimize confusion caused by the vacancy in the ministerial post.

The Constitutional Court must review the case strictly from the legal point of view. If the court rejects the impeachment, the Democratic Party will have to accept full blame.