Nov. 5. (Yonhap News)
By Kim Won-chul, staff reporter and Yeo Hyeon-ho, legal correspondent
The Ministry of Justice’s argument in requesting a Constitutional Court hearing on dissolving the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) on Nov. 5 can be summed up in one sentence: The so-called Revolutionary Organization (RO) activity allegedly organized by lawmaker Lee Seok-gi violates the democratic order, and the UPP should be dissolved because it is a “pro-North Korea” party identified with that activity.
But the RO case is still being tried, and the facts have yet to be confirmed. The ministry is being accused of leveraging negative opinion on the UPP to rush into a hearing.
■ UPP entirely pro-North Korea?
Article 8 of the Republic of Korea Constitution states, “If the purposes or activities of a political party are contrary to the fundamental democratic order . . . the political party is dissolved in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court.” An important standard for the hearing, then, is whether the UPP‘s “purposes” and “activities” run counter to the “fundamental democratic order.” The Ministry of Justice claims that entire party has become a pro-Pyongyang body, contending that both its purposes and its activities violate the article’s terms.
The ministry’s first issue with the constitutionality of the UPP’s purposes is with its “progressive democracy” platform. Its argument is that this platform, the party‘s supreme guiding philosophy, was an adoption of the ideas of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung on orders from Pyongyang, with principles that coincide with the North Korean strategy for fomenting revolution in the South.
“They are espousing a form of popular sovereignty that goes against national sovereignty, where sovereignty is shared among all citizens,” said Jeong Jeom-sik, who heads the ministry’s task force on unconstitutional parties and groups. “The guide for its program states that people who ‘rule over the masses’ - including any government official with a ranking above Level 5 - are to be stripped of all rights.”
The ministry identified other parts of the UPP platform and pledges that it called unconstitutional and “identical to the arguments coming from Pyongyang,” including “overcoming foreign domination and dissolving South Korea’s dependence on the alliance with the US” and defining South Korea as “not a society where the workers are master, but the reverse, one where a privileged few act as masters.”
It also accused the party of unconstitutional behavior by “defying the parliamentary system and party democracy,” citing improprieties in the party’s primary to select proportional representation lawmakers and the throwing of a tear gas canister during a plenary session of the National Assembly.
Chonbuk National University professor Song Ki-chun said the threat was overstated.“While the purposes listed in the party constitution may appear to run counter to the fundamental democratic order in their specifics, they do not appear enough to represent a concrete danger,” he said.
“The improprieties in the party primary are a matter of violating the law, so it’s really just an issue of whether to punish the people who participated as violators of the law,” he continued.
Another law professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “It’s difficult to see how a party can be dissolved simply because the purposes in its party constitution are seen as contrary to the fundamental democratic order.”
A chief judge from the Seoul area said, “It’s not violating the fundamental democratic order to criticize the alliance with the US.”
■ RO synonymous with the UPP?
The key incident that prompted the ministry to describe the UPP’s “activities” as unconstitutional was the RO episode.
“The RO conspired last March to carry out insurrection, judging North Korea’s declaration of an abandonment of the armistice agreement [that ended combat in the Korean War] to create a wartime situation,” the ministry said. “It stressed making thorough psychological, material, and technological preparations and carrying out insurrections all over the country when the order for a full-scale attack was given.”
It went on to say that the UPP “responded to discovery of the RO’s insurrection conspiracy last August by converting its party offices in 16 cities and provinces into ‘battle headquarters,’ staging a press conference to protest ‘public security suppression,’ and staging various rallies in different cities and provinces.”
But the ministry’s determination may have been premature. The RO case is currently in its first trial at Suwon District Court - meaning that no facts have yet been confirmed about the types of activities it was involved in. Further complicating matters is the distortion and doctoring of transcripts by the National Intelligence Service.
Even if the allegations are proven, there is still the problem of equating the RO with the party as a whole.
“Supposing the RO is ruled to be a revolutionary organization following [North Korea’s] juche ideology, that does not mean it can be identified with the entire Unified Progressive Party,” said Cho Guk, a law professor at Seoul National University. “Similarly, you couldn’t equate the juche factions with the whole party even if there were a bunch of them in the UPP.”
A Constitutional commentary published in 2009 by the Ministry of Government Legislation states that the grounds for dissolving a political party “must be interpreted strictly.”
“Otherwise, they can be abused as a means of suppressing political parties,” it warns, indicating the need for caution in requesting a ruling for a hearing to dissolve a party.
Addressing the recent allegations of National Intelligence Service interference in last December’s presidential election, President Park Geun-hye said on Oct. 31 that the administration would “take the necessary impartial action once the judiciary’s decision has emerged” and “develop measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”
Now, the same administration that insists on waiting for a court judgment on a national scandal like the NIS case is rushing to request a party dissolution hearing, a matter that requires strict interpretation and caution in a democratic society.
“This is our determination,” said Jeong Jeom-sik. “Now we’re waiting for the Constitutional Court to review whether it was right or wrong.”
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