[Editorial] Yoon is defying the will of an angry public with vetoes

Posted on : 2024-05-22 17:04 KST Modified on : 2024-05-22 17:17 KST
The president is inviting criticism that he is abusing his power to shield himself from investigation
Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung speaks at a rally condemning President Yoon Suk-yeol's veto of a bill for a special counsel probe into alleged obstruction of the investigation into the death of a Marine in 2023. (Yonhap)
Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung speaks at a rally condemning President Yoon Suk-yeol's veto of a bill for a special counsel probe into alleged obstruction of the investigation into the death of a Marine in 2023. (Yonhap)

On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol vetoed a bill for a special counsel probe into alleged government meddling in the investigation of a Marine’s death last year. That was his 10th veto of his presidency. 

Yoon cannot avoid criticism for abusing his presidential prerogatives to shield himself, as one of the key figures accused of meddling in the investigation. His veto of a special counsel probe into the Marine corporal, surnamed Chae, amounts to a declaration of war against the Korean people, a majority of whom support the probe. 

While announcing Yoon’s veto of the bill on Tuesday afternoon, the presidential chief of staff, Chung Jin-suk, argued that the lack of consensus between the ruling and opposition parties on the special counsel probe undermined the principle of the separation of powers. He also claimed that the bill’s failure to guarantee the president’s right to appoint the special counsel infringed upon the executive branch’s authority. According to Chung, the fairness and neutrality of the investigation cannot be guaranteed because the bill would allow the opposition party to nominate the special counsel. 

Chung said another reason Yoon exercised his veto power is that the case is already being investigated by the police and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials. And he pointed to a provision about the special counsel making a report to the public — which hasn’t appeared in previous special counsel probe bills — as being another “toxic clause.” 

The reason the opposition wants to appoint a special counsel is to explore allegations that government officials interfered in the Marine Corps investigation of the death of Cpl. Chae Su-geun during a search for missing people after flooding in Yecheon County, North Gyeongsang Province, last July. It was right to determine why the young soldier had died after plunging into rapids without any safety equipment and to severely punish the responsible parties. 

But far from anybody being punished, allegations emerged that the investigation had been obstructed, and more and more evidence is surfacing that the obstruction was carried out by the presidential office and the Ministry of National Defense. Since the highest authorities in the government are implicated in this case, a special counsel who has the independence required for a rigorous handling of the investigation should be appointed. 

But despite being personally implicated in the case, Yoon is complaining that the bill would effectively prevent him from appointing the special counsel, which he regards as a “violation of the separation of powers.” Considering that the whole reason a special counsel is needed is because Yoon isn’t trusted on the case, it would hardly be logical to allow Yoon to appoint the special counsel. 

Yoon takes issue with opposition parties railroading the bill, but the ruling party tried to run down the clock by refusing to even discuss it. In short, the president and ruling party are blaming the opposition and attacking the bill when they’re the ones responsible for the current situation. 

In an attempt to justify the president’s veto, his office claims that “as the defender of the Constitution, the president would have been neglecting his presidential duties if he hadn’t vetoed a bill that doesn’t conform to the spirit of the Constitution.” 

But the primary duty of the president specified in the Constitution is defending the lives and safety of the Korean people. The president ought to have exerted his energy on getting to the bottom of Chae’s death. 

Now the ball is back in the National Assembly’s court. The opposition and ruling parties need to work quickly to override Yoon’s veto of the special counsel probe bill. 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles