S. Korean president restored to office

Peace, labor, reunification, and democratic forces on both sides of the 38th parallel celebrated a victory on May 14 when the South Korean Constitutional Court rejected the March 12 impeachment of President Roh Moo-Hyun. He returned to office immediately.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, “the central thoroughfare [of Seoul] was a sea of yellow, the color of the pro-Roh Uri Party, as many of the revelers donned yellow jackets and yellow ribbons.”

Roh’s impeachment, orchestrated by the right-wing Grand National Party (GNP) – a party with close ties to the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ruled until the 1980s – was opposed by up to 70 percent of the population, according to opinion polls.

At a critical point in the impeachment proceedings, Roh’s supporters in parliament were physically barred from the chamber by their GNP counterparts. Many Koreans perceived the action as a power grab or coup d’etat against Roh, whom the right wing sought to paint as “too pro-labor” and as “too soft” toward North Korea (DPRK).

The formal reasons given for Roh’s impeachment – minor electioneering infractions – were considered trivial by both the Korean people and the Constitutional Court. Allegations that some of Roh’s cabinet members had taken bribes were also discounted, particularly after Roh offered to resign if it could be shown that illegal contributions to his team equaled even one-tenth of those given to elected officials of the GNP.

After Roh’s impeachment, thousands – and sometimes millions – of people protested in the streets in a series of mass demonstrations. The April 15 general elections brought about an astonishing electoral turnaround – for the first time since the end of the dictatorship, the GNP became a minority party, as Roh’s Uri Party won an absolute majority in parliament. A smaller, labor-based party, the Democratic Labor Party, also won 10 seats in the 299-seat legislature.

A statement from the North Korean-based Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, “Together with the results of the recent general election, the recent decision to dismiss the impeachment reflects the basic trend of the South Korea’s situation, which aspires for independence and democracy.”

The reinstatement of President Roh brings full cycle the recent change in South Korean politics, which favors peaceful negotiations with the DPRK rather than confrontation, a move towards less U.S. domination over Korean affairs, and a friendlier attitude towards labor. In a speech on May 15, Roh continued to push forward the reforms, but said he intends to let the newly elected legislature take the lead.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.