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[Editorial] Decide on Cho

Moon must not turn a deaf ear to protesters calling for justice minister’s resignation

President Moon Jae-in’s self-righteousness and obstinacy and Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s hypocrisy and injustice are intensifying popular rage and conflicts.

A large rally was held in central Seoul on Thursday to call on Cho to resign and condemn Moon for appointing him as justice minister despite a pile of allegations against his family.

People filled the wide streets over a distance of about 2 kilometers from Sungnyemun Gate near Seoul Station to Gwanghwamun Gate near the presidential office. It was the largest rally held by the conservative bloc since Moon’s presidential inauguration more than two years ago.

Those who attended the rally told news media that they were “angry at Cho’s hypocrisy and immorality,” “disappointed at Moon covering him up regardless,” and they “could not stand his shamelessness.”

Most other people would have felt the same way even if they did not join the rally. The new minister’s hypocrisy is so outrageous that some figures of even progressive civic groups that have supported the Moon regime criticized Cho and called for his resignation.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea, however, condemned the anti-Cho rally, while praising pro-Cho rallies earlier held in front of the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office in Seocho-dong, Seoul.

The ruling party played down the rally against the justice minister with an ill-founded assertion that much of the huge crowd was mobilized for a little money. This is too arrogant an assumption to rely on.

The party claimed that rallies supporting the Moon regime were righteous but ones opposing it were unjust. That is a dangerous political argument that will cause the disunity by inciting fights between Cho supporters and opponents. Aren’t anti-Cho rally participants, who outnumbered attendants in the previous pro-Cho demonstrations, the Korean people?

The fact that the rally against the justice minister was the largest one under the Moon presidency indicates calls for his resignation or dismissal are far from negligible. Moon and the ruling party must be attentive to the calls if it wants to settle the issue through dialogue and compromise.

The deepening split of public opinion and the worsening conflicts are attributed to the president’s appointment of him as justice minister despite opposition by a majority of people and his effective pressure on the prosecution investigating allegations involving Cho and his family.

After a pro-Cho rally late last month, Moon said that “voices calling for prosecution reform are loud.” He took sides with his supporters. He used their rally as the pretext of justifying his support for Cho and his essential pressure on the prosecution. But when a much larger crowd of people gathered to oppose Cho, he turned a deaf ear to them.

He undermined national integrity seriously by giving the message that he sides with a faction he favors. He cannot avoid the criticism that he is instigating a national divide.

“May 10, 2017 will be recorded in history as a day when the true integration of people began,” he said in his inaugural address. “I will serve each and every one who did not support me (as equally as supporters for me).”

It is the president’s responsibility to prevent the division of popular opinions over only one person he appointed from exacerbating chaos and paralyzing parliamentary politics.

When asked what to do when people demand he step down, Moon, then a presidential candidate, said that he would try his best to persuade them through debate.

This is the right time to do so, as the divide in public sentiment has reached an alarming level.

However, he is dawdling, rather than persuading people.

So long as Cho does not quit but holds out while attempting to reform the prosecution investigating his family, the faceoff between the two opposing sides will likely persist. On Saturday, too, rallies for and against Cho were held near the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office. An anti-Cho rally is scheduled for Wednesday in Gwanghwamun.

Now is not the time for the president to keep silent. Moon ought to make up his mind on what to do about the justice minister. He must come forward to people immediately and clarify if he will stay Cho or not.

If the president sits by while relying on his support group, popular anger will grow.