The judicial process has come to a close for former President Park Geun-hye, who has been behind bars for 45 months while on trial for abuse of power and corruption. The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s ruling that sentenced the former conservative president to 20 years in jail and fining her 18 billion won ($16.4 million). Without pardon or parole, she will complete her sentence in 2039, when she is 87-year-old.
The top court’s final decision means she has become eligible for a special pardon. Despite persistent calls for a presidential pardon after her arrest in 2017, she could not be pardoned until the top court delivered a final ruling. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon earlier triggered a debate on pardoning her, expressing an intention to “recommend to President Moon Jae-in that he grant a special pardon to her.” After DP supporters strongly opposed his proposal, he backed down and stressed the “importance of her own reflection and the need for a final ruling by the Supreme Court.”
After the court’s ruling, however, politicians mostly kept mum. Conscious of the earlier backlash, the DP chairman only reiterated the need for Park to officially apologize for her wrongdoings. The PPP simply expressed its acceptance of the court’s ruling with no mentioning of a special pardon. The Blue House was equally prudent by attaching significance to the “embodiment of the Constitutional spirit as a democratic republic.” The ruling represented the “maturity and advancement of Korea’s democracy,” said the presidential office.
Nevertheless, public demands for a special pardon will not subside easily, especially now that the former president’s fate has been determined. Former Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the PPP has urged President Moon Jae-in not to be swayed by his “narrow-minded allies who demand an apology from the former president.” After two former conservative presidents — Park and Lee Myung-bak — were jailed for power abuse just as general-turned-presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were before, many citizens are expressing concerns about the state of the country. Some conservative voters even suspect that the ruling party is fiddling with special pardons for Park and Lee to win more votes in the Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections in April.
The more demands for special pardons grow, the fiercer our political divide will become. Moon holds the key to addressing such deep and enduring divisions in the nation. If he does not make his position clear, the national division will only deepen. Again, it is all up to Moon. A decision must be made prudently, but the timing may be as important as the decision.