(April 11 Korea Herald EDITORIAL)
Role of prosecutions
Ruling party defies critics to speed sweeping prosecution transformation
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is accelerating its move to strip prosecutions of all investigative powers – a hotly debated issue that has stirred political circles and drawn fierce opposition from prosecutors.
At the heart of the dispute, the ruling party can – and sadly will – abuse its supermajority position in the National Assembly to push through the related bill to change the country’s prosecution system once and for all.
If the bill passes unilaterally, the power to investigate prosecutions for six types of crimes will be transferred to a new state agency. This will seriously reduce the power of the prosecution, paving the way for an entirely new system to tackle serious crimes, including those committed by high-ranking public officials.
Critics say this serious issue should be fully debated, especially as the country is set to see the launch of a new administration led by President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.
In 2021, Yoon, then the attorney general, criticized the ruling party’s plan to strip the prosecution of its investigative rights, calling it a “regression of democracy and 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 power.
Even though Yoon is due to take office on May 10 and his views on the prosecution’s role enjoy growing support, the outlook is not as rosy for those who wish to keep core prosecution functions intact. .
The Legislative and Judiciary Committee is made up 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 the passage of legislation, the ruling party has taken an extraordinary step to win the support of Representative Yang Hyang-ja, an independent legislator. Since Yang was a member of the Democratic Party of Korea, she is expected to support the ruling party’s position if the bill goes to the Agenda Coordinating Committee.
In other words, the opposition party cannot prevent the ruling party from pushing the bill through the Legislative and Judiciary Committee and then through the plenary session.
Why is the ruling party hastening to push through the bill aimed at overhauling the powers of the prosecution? Some political observers have said that this decision during the transition period, which could probably trigger a wave of criticism, is politically motivated.
The idea that the power of the prosecution service should be reduced stems from the country’s not-so-proud political history. The prosecution has often been criticized for abusing its investigative power in the service of the administrations in place, targeting opposition party figures and critics of the ruling parties, even when it was supposed to maintain political neutrality.
As a result, many politicians in the country have long been keen to manipulate its investigative rights for political revenge or to serve their own interests.
But opponents of the bill say if the rights of the prosecution are reduced to only warrant applications and indictments, it will harm the public interest. Despite the criticism accumulated in the past, there is no doubt that the Public Ministry is the most qualified investigative agency in the country, armed with unparalleled know-how and capabilities.
It’s also understandable that prosecutors are reacting strongly to the ruling party’s decision. But prosecutors should do some soul-searching about why the bill was first introduced before releasing their official position.
Given the seriousness and long-term impact of the bill, governing and opposition parties are encouraged to discuss the matter in detail and work together to find a better solution that best serves the audience.