President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Friday that he will pardon Park Geun-hye, his primary conservative adversary and predecessor, who is serving a lengthy jail sentence for bribery and other offenses.
The pardon, according to Moon’s liberal government, is intended to build national solidarity in the face of the pandemic’s challenges. According to some experts, Moon may attempt to soften conservative criticism of Park’s health issues, or perhaps use her to divide the opposition ahead of the March presidential race.
“By overcoming the traumas of the past, we may progress into a new age.” “Rather than battling against each other while being fixated with the past, it’s time to courageously bring together all of our abilities for the future,” Moon said in remarks posted by his office.
“In the instance of former President Park, we took into account the fact that her health had deteriorated significantly after nearly five years in jail,” he explained.
According to the Justice Ministry, Park, who is 69 years old, is one of 3,094 persons who will be pardoned on December 31. Special pardons are frequently granted in South Korea to commemorate New Year’s Day other national festivals.
Park has been treated in a hospital since last month and will be freed, according to the ministry. Officials declined to comment on Park’s health, but local media reported that she has been dealing with a lumbar disc, a shoulder injury, dental issues, and mental stress.
Park expressed gratitude to Moon for pardoning her in statements issued by her lawyer, Yoo Young-ha, and stated that she will concentrate on curing her diseases. She stated that she want to greet the people as soon as possible.
Park, the daughter of South Korea’s deceased ruler Park Chung-hee, was once the conservative darling. She became South Korea’s first female president in late 2012, defeating Moon, then a unified liberal contender, by a million votes. She was dubbed “the queen of elections” by local media. Park was spurred by conservatives who see her father as a hero who, despite his violation of human rights, lifted the country out of postwar squalor.
In late 2016, parliament impeached her, and she was legally ousted from office and incarcerated the following year as a result of an explosive corruption scandal that sparked months of major public protests.
The Supreme Court maintained her 20-year sentence in January. She might have spent a total of 22 years in prison if she hadn’t been pardoned since she was convicted of tampering in her party’s candidate nominations ahead of the 2016 legislative elections.
Park has stated that she is a victim of political retaliation. Since October 2017, she has refused to attend her trials.
While she was in government, she was accused of conspiring with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to accept millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from some of the country’s top corporations, including Samsung.
Several high-profile persons were arrested, indicted, and convicted as a result of Park’s scandal. Choi had been in prison for 18 years. Lee Jae-yong, a Samsung heir, was sentenced to five years in jail until his sentence was reduced and he was freed on parole in August.
Park was followed by Moon, who won a special presidential by-election with ease while the conservatives were in turmoil following Park’s removal.
Moon’s single five-year term ends in May, and he is not eligible to run for re-election under the legislation. According to recent public opinion polls, candidates from the ruling and conservative opposition parties are running neck and neck.
It’s unclear how Park’s pardon will alter voter opinion right now. It may enrage liberals, but it also has the potential to revive opposition divisions, according to some experts.
“Even if the presidential Blue House has impure intents with the pardon of ex-President Park Geun-hye, it’s something that we opposition forces should confront,” Kim Jae-won, a prominent member of the People Power Party, posted on Facebook. “We are stronger when we are united, and we are weaker when we are separated.”
Park’s pardon has nothing to do with the presidential race, according to Moon’s administration.
“Moon may be accused of attempting to sway the next election, but releasing a predecessor from prison has precedent in Korean politics,” said Ewha University professor Leif-Eric Easley.
“This action is unlikely to influence their ideas or the public’s impression of them now that staunch conservative and progressive candidates are set for the March 2022 election,” Easley added.
Almost all previous presidents of South Korea, or their family members and important colleagues, have been embroiled in controversies at the end of their tenure or after leaving office.
After an 18-year reign, Park’s father was killed by his intelligence chief in 1979. Former President Roh Moo-hyun, a close friend of Moon’s, committed suicide in 2009 when his family was being investigated for corruption.
Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, two more former presidents, were imprisoned but eventually pardoned. Both passed away this year.
Park’s conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, is currently serving a 17-year sentence in jail for corruption.
Ex-Prime Minister Han Myung-sook, one of Moon’s former political supporters, is among those who will be pardoned alongside Park on December 31. He received a two-year jail sentence on corruption allegations. Her civil rights will be restored by the government, allowing her to run for office and vote.
Separately, Lee Seok-ki, a former socialist legislator who served more than nine years in jail for preparing a pro-North Korean uprising and other offenses, was freed on parole on Friday. When Park was in office, Lee was arrested. He was a member of a now-defunct tiny progressive party.