President Lee Myung-bak has done the right thing by stamping the bill allowing the launch of an investigation into suspicions surrounding a real estate deal for his retirement home. Some of his aides and government officials have been recommending that the president veto the motion, arguing it is unconstitutional as the main opposition Democratic United Party gave itself the authority to recommend the special investigator to head the probe.
In this case, the plaintiff could interfere with the investigation and raise questions of fairness. Some of the president’s aides argued that the bill violates the defendant’s constitutional right to a neutral and fair investigation and trial. President Lee, however, said he did not wish to cause further political and social controversy with his personal problem. He added that if he resists the special legislative probe, the people could suspect he has something to hide. Legally speaking, the defendant’s resistance to an investigation could be a bigger problem than a plaintiff leading the case.
The bill passed the legislature on Sept. 6 and the president contemplated his decision until the Sept. 15 deadline, finally coming to agreement with Socrates’ wisdom that “a law is a law, however undesirable it may be.”
It is the DUP’s turn now to do the right thing. It must demonstrate responsibility as a sponsor of the contentious bill. To ensure a fair case for the defendant, the DUP should yield authority to the Supreme Court chief justice or the Korea Bar Association in recommending independent counsel to lead the investigation. So far, the legislature has sought nine special investigations against senior government officials. Of them, the Bar Association recommended special counsel in five cases and the chief justice in four. The DUP should respect the experience and expertise of the Bar Association and chief justice and ask one of them to recommend candidates. For formalities, the party would announce the candidates recommended by either of the two and put forward names before the president to choose.
The ruling Saenuri Party also cannot avoid criticism for going along with the contentious bill. The ruling party was so engrossed with keeping distance from an unpopular president ahead of the presidential election that it agreed to the opposition’s unreasonable demands. The bill will likely remain a poor example of the opportunistic and immature nature of Korean lawmakers. To restore their name, floor leaders of the two parties should jointly seek a neutral figure and have the DUP exercise its right by naming the agreed upon candidate.