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Moon rules out immediate pardons for ex-presidents, divides parties

President Moon Jae-in speaks Monday during a New Year's press conference. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in speaks Monday during a New Year's press conference. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Monday ruled out pardoning two former presidents in the near future, but left open the possibility of pardons down the line when backed by public consensus.

Moon said Monday during a New Year’s press conference that he is not considering pardoning the previous two presidents, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, both of whom are serving prison sentences for corruption.

“Two former presidents being incarcerated is a lamentable situation for the country, and as there are reports of the two being in ill health, I am concerned for them,” Moon said.

“However, I don’t think it is the right time to talk of pardons. The legal procedures have only now been completed, and incredible manipulation of state affairs and power-linked corruption have been proven to be true, and the damages to the nation were great, and have left deep wounds.”

The president said that pardoning Lee and Park without public consensus would only further divide the public.

“What’s more, the people will not countenance movements calling for pardons on grounds of refuting the court ruling. And I share that view,” he added.

“There are many who supported the former presidents, and who are pained by the current situation. In that regard, I think the stance that national unity should be achieved through pardons should be listened to, and I think that a time will come when the issue should be considered more deeply.”

The issue surfaced Jan. 1 after ruling Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon publicly broached his intention to ask Moon to pardon his immediate predecessors, which immediately ignited controversy within political circles.

That political debate has put Moon under increased pressure to clarify his stance on granting pardons for Park and Lee. His office has stayed mostly silent on the issue, taking public consensus as a key consideration.

Park is to serve a total of 22 years in prison for abuse of power and bribery, while her immediate predecessor Lee is serving a 17-year prison sentence for bribery and embezzlement.

Many within the ruling Democratic Party who have opposed granting special pardons to Park and Lee agreed with Moon, saying they respect his decision to move in line with public consensus.

In a Realmeter survey conducted earlier this month with 500 voters in Korea, 47.7 percent of respondents said they were in favor of granting special pardons for Lee and Park, while 48 percent were against the idea.

“We agree and respect the president’s comments that a public consensus must be reached before the issue of special pardon is discussed,” Democratic Party spokesperson Choi In-ho said in a press briefing Monday.

“Since early in the year, the party leadership has mentioned that deep repentance of those involved and strong public consensus are important. The president’s words are in line with the stance of the party leadership.”

Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon, who sparked discussions and controversy over possible pardons for the ex-presidents, said only that he “respects the president’s will.”

Several members of the main opposition People Power Party criticized Moon’s comments, saying the president has avoided carrying his share of responsibility in granting special pardons for Park and Lee.

“The government must be willing to provide special pardons as part of apologizing for unfolding vengeful and divisive politics,” said former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party in a KBS radio interview.

“This time of the year is probably the best time to do that.”

By Ko Jun-tae (