Protect Democracy through Solidarity for Justice!
Statement regarding the South Korean government's constitutional petition
to ban the Unified Progressive Party
1. Park Geun-hye’s conspiracy to disband the UPP and revive dictatorship
The Park Geun-hye government filed a petition on November 5, asking the Constitutional Court for a political party dissolution ruling against the Unified Progressive Party (UPP). The government is petitioning not only for the dissolution of the UPP but the disqualification of UPP members who currently hold seats in the National Assembly of South Korea. As soon as the National Intelligence Service (NIS) charged UPP legislator Lee Seok-ki with conspiracy to overthrow the regime on August 28, the Ministry of Justice used the charge as grounds to set up a task force team on September 6 to look into the unconstitutionality of the UPP itself. The task force team's research was conducted in secret without any form of public debate. The conclusion of the task force team as reported to the Cabinet Council by the Ministry of Justice on November 5 was that the UPP was in violation of the Constitution. Upon receiving the Justice Ministry's report, the Cabinet Council immediately added an emergency item to its agenda and passed the motion to file a petition for a constitutional ruling to ban the UPP. The UPP did not even get a chance to submit an opinion during the Justice Ministry's investigation or the Cabinet's deliberation.
Along with the petition, the Park government has also asked for an injunction to ban the UPP's activities. As the Constitutional Court decision is expected to take quite some time, the government needed the injunction to fast forward to its ultimate goal of stopping all activities of the UPP and its member legislators and blocking them from running in the local elections slated for June 4 next year. The government has requested the judiciary to grant the injunction within ten days of its filing of the petition to ban the UPP. Such a demand, obviously aimed at pressuring the Constitutional Court to disband the UPP at the earliest possible time, is in flagrant disregard of judicial procedures and typical of the heavy-handedness of an authoritarian government.
This is the first time that the mechanism to forcefully dissolve a political party has actually been invoked since its inception in 1960. After the April 19 Revolution against the dictatorial Rhee Syng-man government, the Constitution of South Korea was revised to include a clause to protect political parties as well as a mechanism for the legal dissolution of political parties. The revision was motivated by the need to protect opposition parties from unfair suppression by the government. In 1958, prior to the revision, then President Rhee charged his political opponent Cho Bong-am and other leaders of the Progressive Party with espionage and forcefully disbanded the Progressive Party. Cho was executed the following year, but Rhee himself was overthrown a year later due to the April 19 Uprising of 1960. To this day, the provision on political party dissolution in the Constitution is interpreted as a mechanism to provide democratic protection to minority parties.
Article 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea guarantees the freedom to establish a political party and carry out activities in its name, in adherence to the Constitution’s spirit of respect for democracy and ideological diversity. The only time the provision for political party dissolution can be invoked is in exceptional cases where a political party’s activities pose a clear and urgent threat to the basic order established by the Constitution.
Those who used this Constitutional provision meant to protect political parties and abused it to persecute opposition parties were the governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Du-hwan, who both usurped power through military coups. During their dictatorial rule, both presidents threatened democratic order and oppressed opposition parties through such mechanisms as emergency measures, constitutional “reform” (yushin) and emergency martial law. Such arsenal favored by past dictators is being resurrected in 21st-century South Korea.
2. About the Unified Progressive Party
The Unified Progressive Party is the political party that succeeds the history of the Victory of People 21 of 1997 and the Democratic Labor Party of Korea founded in 2000. South Koreans put an end to military dictatorship through the democratization struggles of 1987 and have achieved democratic progress in Korean society ever since. Realizing the need for a progressive party to represent them in politics, people’s organizations such as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and other social activists established a political party, named it Victory of People 21, and got its representative to run in the presidential election. This became the foundation for the establishment of the Democratic Labor Party of Korea (DLPK) in 2000. But the DLPK had to disband shortly due to its failure to gain 2% support at the general election held in the same year. According to political party laws in Korea, a party that fails to gain 2% of the total votes at a general election will have its registration automatically cancelled. The DLPK was founded again soon after, and its subsequent efforts paid off in the next general election in 2004, through which DLPK garnered 13% support and won ten seats in the National Assembly, becoming South Korea’s third largest party. In the local election of 2010, the DLPK won a total of 139 seats in several local councils and three of its candidates became heads of local governments. In 2011, the DLPK joined forces with other political groups with the aim of creating a progressive party with a larger popular base, and succeeded in founding the UPP, which went on to gain 10.3% support and 13 National Assembly seats in the 2012 general election. There was some internal discord over rigging of the party primary, which led to the defection of certain factions. As a result, the UPP currently holds a total of six National Assembly seats, 112 local council seats and two district mayorships.In short, the UPP has grown in the past fourteen years through dissolutions, splits and merges like any other political party.
The core slogan of the DLPK had been to become the “hope of the working people.” As its successor, the UPP’s platform is based on the same spirit of “marching towards a world owned by the working people.” Compared to the giant conservative parties that essentially represent the political interests of conglomerates and the elite, the UPP aims to be the political representative of the working people, defending their interests and striving to realize progressive democracy owned by the working people.
The UPP’s political aims are to fight corruption and special privileges for the elite in the political system, advance progressive democracy through politics, realize an autonomous, self-reliant economy centered around safeguarding people’s livelihoods, create a welfare community through solidarity and engagement, build a society of economic equality that respects the value of labor and the right to decent livelihoods, create a world of genuine gender equality, build a social system that realizes and sustains justice and equality, guarantee autonomy and peace on the Korean peninsula, and achieve a regime that reunifies the people of the two Koreas.
The policies of the DLPK and UPP have led the progress of South Korean society. A prime example would be the DLPK’s campaign for free healthcare and free education, which the conservatives dismissed as unrealistic and socialist. But today, conservative parties have actually adopted similar policies. The welfare pledges of Park Geun-hye when she ran for president last year have a lot in common with the policies first proposed by the UPP.
The UPP elects its leadership and candidates who will run for public offices through direct voting by party members, and is actually the only political party in South Korea to do so. The UPP is making every effort to reflect in its activities the provision of the Constitution that “the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people.”
Please find attached documents introducing the UPP’s platform and activities.
3. Park Geun-hye government’s petition for UPP dissolution violates the truth and the Constitution
The Park government claims that the UPP should be disbanded because its platform, objectives and activities violate the basic democratic order of the Constitution.
1) Regarding the claim that the UPP’s platform and objectives are unconstitutional
The Park government reasons that the phrase “a society owned by the working people” in the UPP’s platform means the party does not regard all citizens as the owners of Korean society and excludes the privileged minority, which makes the phrase a violation of the right to equal treatment stated in the Constitution. The Prime Minister went as far as to remark that the term “people (minjung)” had socialist connotations.
The UPP was established to represent the working people and to build a world where such people are respected as the owners of politics and society. From its founding to the present, the UPP has adhered to this motto in all its political activities, including election campaigns. Questioning the constitutionality of this phrase 14 years after it was written and using it as grounds to call for the dissolution of the UPP is utter bull-headedness.
The reason the UPP favors the term minjung over gukmin(which both mean “people”)– although it does use the word gukmin at times – is because it is aware that the word gukmin is an abbreviation of hwangguk shinmin (meaning “imperial subjects”) forced on the Korean people during the Japanese occupation. After liberation from Japanese colonial rule, all the political parties in Korea, from left to right, adopted the term inmin (also meaning “people”) instead of hwangguk shinmin, and with time, the progressive camp began to favor the term minjung. Some critics say that Park’s taking issue with the UPP’s use of minjung instead of gukmin stems from the fact that the ruling class of South Korea today has its roots in the pro-Japanese elements in the colonial era.
The government also points out that the term “progressive democracy” in the UPP’s platform was used by North Korean leader Kim Il-sung during a talk he gave in 1945, and that the “autonomy, equality, peace and revolution” that constitute Kim Il-sung’s definition of progressive democracy coincide exactly with the “autonomy, equality, peace and democratic revolution” that constitute the UPP’s definition of the same term. Progressive democracy as defined by the UPP is a concept that has been in use all over the world for more than a century. The UPP’s platform expresses its determination to “realize a society based on progressive democracy in which the people are the genuine owners of every aspect of social life, including its political, economic, social and cultural aspects.” One cannot help but wonder exactly which part of this sentence is in violation of the Constitution. Autonomy, equality and peace are the very ideologies the Constitution of Korea strives to uphold. Even the term “democratic revolution” that the government finds so offensive simply means initiating a power shift through democratic means, and is thus not at all unconstitutional.
Another claim made by the government is that the UPP is unconstitutional because it calls for the withdrawal of American armed forces stationed in Korea (USFK), which is similar to North Korea’s demand. The UPP believes that dismantling the regime of US-ROK alliance which relies heavily on the US for national defense and getting foreign forces to withdraw from Korean soil would lay the foundation for peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The UPP calls for the implementation of the June 15 and October 4 Joint Declarations signed by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun respectively during the inter-Korean summit talks, so as to pave the way for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula. In contrast, the Park government has decided to ignore the agreement the Roh Moo-hyun government had reached with the USFK to take back war-time operational control. A sovereign state should retain the authority to control its armed forces in times of conflict, but currently, such war-time operational control is held not by South Korea but by the US. The current government is just as passive when it comes to implementing the June 15 and October 4 Joint Declarations. And as part of its presidential campaign last year, the Saenuri Party led by Park, together with its conservative supporters, ferociously condemned the late Roh Moo-hyun for pandering to his North Korean counterpart during the summit talks that led to the October 4 Joint Declaration.
2) Regarding the claim that the UPP takes orders from North Korea
The Park government has accused the UPP of being manipulated by the North Korean regime, on the grounds of UPP legislator Lee Seok-ki’s treason charges and a few charges of espionage against other UPP members.
The charge of conspiring to overthrow the government brought against Lee was orchestrated by the NIS based on information that it illegally gathered by planting an informant in the UPP to spy on Lee and tap UPP gatherings he attended. The information that NIS deliberately leaked to the press is false, and this will soon be revealed in the on-going court hearings. But instead of waiting for the court decision, the government assumed the NIS charges to be true and moved to disband the UPP.
The NIS has failed to produce proof of the existence of the so-called RO (Revolution Organization) that allegedly conspired to overthrow the current regime. And thus it was unable to include charges against this RO with being an anti-state or enemy-benefitting group when indicting Lee. The NIS insists that Lee was acting on orders from North Korea, but it also failed to apply the National Security Act provisions on infiltration, escape, meeting and communication vis-à-vis the enemy state when indicting Lee for making contact with North Korea. The reason is simple: there was no evidence.
The government is also using a few espionage cases to claim that the UPP’s predecessor DLPK took orders from North Korea, but nothing in the written judgments of the said cases acknowledges that the defendants had any control over the DLPK, or that the DLPK was an unconstitutional party. It is one thing to accuse certain individuals of spying for North Korea, but accusing a political party that some of those individuals joined as being unconstitutional is a completely different thing. It is nothing short of malicious distortion of facts.
3) Regarding the overseas cases cited by the government to back the feasibility of its petition
The Park government has cited the German Constitutional Court’s ban on the Socialist Reich Party (SRP) in 1952 and the Communist Party (KDP) in 1956 as well as the European Court of Human Rights decision to uphold the ban on Turkey’s Welfare Party in 2001 to back the feasibility of its petition to dissolve the UPP.
The SRP was the political party that inherited the organization, membership and political line of the Nazi Party of Germany, and the mechanism to ban political parties itself was created for the very purpose of preventing the resurrection of the Nazi Party. Without providing such background information, the Park government simply stated that a political party had successfully been banned in Germany.
As for the KDP, its dissolution stirred up controversy and was regarded as government oppression of political opposition. The Adenauer administration wanted to purge Germany of socialist elements, and kept criticizing the policies of opposition parties with socialist inclinations. It took five years of painful deliberation for the Constitutional Court to finally decide to ban the KDP. But even after the constitutional ruling, there was rising criticism that a mechanism meant to check the revival of Nazism had been abused to suppress communism. Consequently, the Constitutional Court became much more cautious in invoking its power to ban political parties.
In the case of Turkey, the dissolution of the Welfare Party is generally regarded as a typical case of political oppression. In particular, the United Communist Party of Turkey was banned by the Constitutional Court in 1991 for using the word “communist,” but the European Court of Human Rights found the ban to be in violation of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as the ban was based on just the party’s name with no concrete evidence that it had done any substantial harm.
The UPP has never staged an armed revolt or called for a revolution through violent means. It is heir neither to an ultra-right-wing party nor a communist party. Nowhere in the UPP platform does the word communism or socialism appear, and no expression in the platform denounces the capitalist regime. The Park government’s attempt to ban the UPP without any concrete evidence of its unconstitutionality is a violation of the freedom of association provided in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in direct opposition to the international community’s efforts to guarantee the freedom of political parties.
4. Park Geun-hye’s political retaliation
When facts began to emerge pointing to the illegal use of state agencies by Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri Party and government for their presidential election campaign last year, the government tried to overcome the resulting political crisis by persecuting its critics including the UPP. It has labeled criticism against the South Korean government as siding with North Korea, aggressively spreading a climate of Korean-style McCarthyism. It has only been ten months since Park took office, but she is already on an all-out offensive against the UPP. Her attacks are the fruits of meticulous strategizing by the ruling power including her government and the ruling party, and are tantamount to a political vendetta against the UPP.
When it became known that the NIS had illegally intervened in the presidential election last year, the people of South Korea held candlelight protests demanding the President to take full responsibility in discovering the truth about election meddling by the NIS. The legislature accepted the people’s wishes and carried out a National Assembly investigation that exposed several problems. The UPP took part in the investigation to expose the NIS’s illegal election meddling, and stood with the people at candlelight rallies demanding a public apology from Park Geun-hye. The NIS retaliated by accusing Lee Seok-ki of conspiring to overthrow the government. Then in October, it was revealed through a national audit that other state agencies including the Korean Armed Forces Cyber Command and the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs were also involved in illicit activities aimed at helping the Saenuri Party candidate win the presidential election. The Park government retaliated by filing a petition to ban the UPP.
The Saenuri Party and Park government wants to wipe out the UPP, together with any chances for the opposition to regain government power. Their ultimate aim is to pave the way for permanent power. The opposition formed an alliance based on democracy, reform and progress and agreed to get a single candidate to represent the progressive camp in the general and presidential elections of 2012. It was a practical choice aimed at getting a progressive president to take office. In response, the conservatives adopted the strategy of destroying the UPP first in order to destabilize this opposition alliance. The strategy of attacking the UPP for being pro-North Korean was particularly effective in that it triggered the “red complex” that the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, shared with the ruling party. Before the highly-publicized charge of revolt conspiracy against Lee Seok-ki, the opposition had formed a united front in condemning the NIS for its illegal interference in the presidential election. But now, the opposition front including the Democratic Party, while criticizing the government for violating the constitutional freedom of political activity, is also expressing its disapproval of the policies and stance of the UPP. In other words, the opposition is deliberately keeping its distance from the UPP.
The growth of the UPP has in itself been a threat to the ruling forces. Although it is a minority party, members of the UPP in the National Assembly and local councils are working actively to implement progressive policies in their constituencies. It was the growing influence of the UPP that drove the largest opposition party to embrace more progressive policies, and forced even the ruling party revamp its image by changing its party color to red. For two months since the NIS detonated the revolt conspiracy bomb in Lee Seok-ki’s face, UPP members were endlessly arrested and interrogated by national security agencies, while conservative journalists had a field day holding their own public trial and pronouncing the UPP guilty. Despite such hardship, the UPP gained a miraculous 8.2% of the votes at the by-election on October 30 this year. The Park government fast-tracked the decision to file a constitutional petition against the UPP and pressured the Constitutional Court to produce a quick ruling by applying for an injunction on top of the petition. The ulterior motive behind such swift action could only be wiping the UPP off the face of Korean politics at the earliest possible time.
Many Koreans suspect that Park and her party are trying to ban the UPP out of a sense of revenge against UPP representative Lee Jung-hee. During the presidential election last year, UPP candidate Lee Jung-hee was particularly vocal in criticizing candidate Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party. The biggest target of Lee’s criticism was none other than Park Geun-hye’s father Park Chung-hee, the dictator who ruled South Korea for some 18 years from 1961. Lee’s criticisms were aired live on national television during a presidential candidate debate, in which Lee exposed the fact that Park Chung-hee had worked as a pro-Japanese agent assisting the Japanese military during the Japanese occupation. Needless to say, Lee’s comments created huge ripples in the presidential election.
5. Join us in a solidarity for justice to protect democracy
Should the Constitutional Court decide to accept the government’s petition and ban the UPP, the activities of the party as well as its members in the National Assembly and local councils will come to a halt. It will be impossible to establish another political party similar to the UPP, a party that represents the working people, strives to improve the subordinate relationship that South Korea has with the US, and pursues peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, other civic groups that share the same aims as the UPP will face greater hardships. The ultimate goal of the Park government is to eliminate progressive forces altogether from South Korean society. In other words, the current government is steering the society away from democracy and towards fascism and dictatorship.
The UPP is fighting the government’s attempt to dissolve the UPP. On November 6, the very next day after the government filed the petition to dissolve the UPP, all the UPP legislators shaved their heads in protest and went on a hunger and sit-in strike in front of the National Assembly. It was the first time in the Republic’s history that all the National Assembly members belonging to a political party– two of them women –shaved their heads in protest. The following day, UPP local council members followed suit, and party members are holding daily candlelight vigils and giving public speeches appealing to Korean citizens for their support.
The Park government should withdraw its petition for a constitutional ruling to ban the UPP. The fate of the UPP should be in the hands of its members and the voting public; it is not a matter that can be controlled by the government or the nine judges of the Constitutional Court.
The UPP would like to appeal to the spirit of solidarity of the champions of peace, human rights and democracy around the world. Please make your voices for justice heard, so that we can stop the Park government’s anachronistic abuse of power to keep advancing democracy, and end the suppression of freedoms to keep championing human rights. Please voice your protest and ask the South Korean government to withdraw its petition to ban the UPP.