03/12/2004, 00.00
South Korea
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Interests and power struggles behind President Roh's impeachment

Seoul (AsiaNews) The South Korean Church is asking politicians to "to overcome the current (political) crisis through reciprocal understanding and pursuing the common good of society." Yet President Roh's impeachment seems like a battle over self-interests.     

The procedure to block Roh Moo-hyun's presidential powers has been possible thanks to the alliance formed between the majority-holding conservative party, the Grand National Party (GNP) and the former house majority led by the progressive opposition, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) which formerly supported Roh. Of the total 271 seats in Parliament the GNP holds 145, whereas the MDP claims 62.  

Both parties decided to set out to impeach the president after the National Elections Commission announced last week it was bringing charges against Roh for conducting an illegal presidential campaign. Roh had urged all members of the Uri party (the only one backing him) to vote for him and he was accused on not showing neutrality.

In addition, the president's election team was accused of corruption after having accepted 10 million dollars in illicit donations from major campaign contributors like Hyundai, Samsung and LG. But the GNP is accused of have pocketed over 70 million dollars in illegal funding.  

Immediately after he was elected in Dec. 2002 the 57 year-old Catholic president declared war on the country's deep-rooted problem of political corruption. Yet the newly elected president could only count on small majority of support in Parliament and inherited a country in the middle of an economic crisis and filled with political instability, corruption and facing threats again from Northern Korea.

At the beginning of his presidency Roh had the support of the MDP party.  Yet in Sept. 2003, a split within MDP led most members of the party to abandon Roh. Only a minority, as held by the Uri party, still gave their support to the president. The GNP party –representing many of South Korea's wealthiest families –refused to support Roh's reforms and took advantage of the internal MDP crisis to cast doubt on Roh's legitimacy as president and blocked the passing of all his proposals.  

Not being able to count on their number of votes, this morning members of the Uri party tried stopping the parlamentary session before the impeachment proceedings took place.

In a statement read by Roh's spokesman, Lee Byong-wan, in addition to saying he was sorry for the political crisis the president expressed remorse and condolences for the death of former president of Daewoo Construction, Nam Sang-kook. Nam Sang-kook took his life a few days ago when he threw himself in the Han river. The South Korean president had accused the former executive on national TV of having bribed his brother, Kun-pong, with 30 million won (25,600 dollars)

The opinion of experts is clear. The entire anti-Roh campaign has been brought on by the MDP party, because it feels threatened to lose the next elections. "They had to do something to show (citizens) they were still alive and strong," said Dr. Lee Chung-he of Hanukkah University. Meanwhile, Roh's approval rating has dropped from 80% to 30%.  (MR)
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