By Rose Onda
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Wednesday reaffirmed his prudent approach toward the issue of whether to grant special pardons to two imprisoned former presidents, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.
He emphasised the need to consider public consensus on the politically sensitive matter and its possible impact on national unity during his luncheon meeting with Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon at Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon was responding to a proposal from the Busan mayor that Moon takes the measure for the sake of promoting national unity, although he did not use the word pardon directly, according to a senior Cheong Wa Dae official.
Moon replied that it is heartbreaking and regrettable that the aged former presidents, who are reportedly in poor health, were in jail.
“I can’t help thinking about public consensus on the issue.
“And it should be considered in a way to help promote national unity.
“ (We) should take the elements into account together,” Moon was quoted as saying.
Both of the mayors belong to the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP).
It was quite unusual for Moon to have a separate meeting with PPP members at Cheong Wa Dae.
Early this year, South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a 20-year prison sentence for the impeached former President Park over bribery and embezzlement.
Lee, another former conservative president, was earlier sentenced to 17 years in jail for similar charges.
Another sensitive issue of whether Lee Jae-yong, the imprisoned de facto leader of Samsung Group, should be given a presidential pardon was not discussed, the Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The Seoul mayor asked the government to relax restrictions on the reconstruction of old and shabby apartment buildings.
Oh said that relevant authorities are using strict safety inspections to control apartment reconstruction on the pretext of worries about the possibility of fueling home price hikes.
The president countered Oh’s view, saying his liberal government is not hampering such reconstruction itself.
Moon pointed out, however, that it is not appropriate to make profit-oriented reconstruction easy, the Cheong Wa Dae official said on background.
Many agree that a shortage of brand-new apartments is behind unrelenting housing price hikes especially in and around Seoul in recent years.
The liberal Moon administration has been criticised for having long focused on restricting mortgage and raising property-holding taxes, rather than increasing housing supply, to stabilise the market.
The Seoul mayor, meanwhile, proposed that South Korea shift its focus to win the right to host the 2032 Summer Olympics in Seoul from the push for co-hosting the event with Pyongyang.
Moon responded that it is still too early to give up the bid in spite of North Korea’s announcement that it would not participate in the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to open in July.
The president did not rule out the possibility of a breakthrough being produced in efforts to revive dialogue with Pyongyang during his summit talks with U.S. President Joe Biden in late May.
The North may also avert its decision not to join the Tokyo games, given previous cases, and a way could open for co-hosting the 2032 event, Moon added.
The meeting was arranged now that it is very important to pool wisdom with the mayors of the capital and South Korea’s second-largest city, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said earlier in a statement.
It marked the start of Moon’s full-fledged campaign to reach out to the opposition bloc, critical of his leadership in the home stretch, since his Democratic Party (DP) was overwhelmingly defeated in the April 7 by-elections.
Earlier, Moon carried out a Cabinet reshuffle to replace the prime minister, five ministers, and some key Cheong Wa Dae aides.
Former DP lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee was appointed as senior secretary for political affairs.
Moon also urged Cheong Wa Dae to strengthen communication and cooperation with opposition parties and called for the establishment of a special system for cooperation with the local governments that have new mayors.