The suicide of former South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun has shocked the world. Mr. Roh leaped off a mountain cliff near his residence in Gimhae Saturday morning and suffered fatal head injuries. We offer our prayers for Mr. Roh, who as president created a new epoch for South Korea. It is regrettable that Mr. Roh, who served as president from 2003-2008 and was proud of his clean reputation, died in the shadow of alleged corruption.
Although he had only a high school diploma, Mr. Roh studied law, passed the bar exam and became a well-respected human rights and labor lawyer. In the December 2002 presidential election, he won the strong support of younger voters, who used mobile phones and the Internet to campaign for him.
Mr. Roh attacked the collusive ties between old political forces and big business. He pushed for clarification of past human rights violations and the identification of collaborators with Japan during the colonial period. On the diplomatic front, he dealt with North Korea charitably and he confronted Japan on the issue of historical perception. A maverick politician, he acted as a national leader representing the ordinary people.
On April 30, however, he was questioned by state prosecutors in Seoul over allegations of corruption, in which he, his wife, his two children and confidants were suspected of having received $6.4 million in bribes from a supporter. Becoming the target of a bribery investigation clearly devastated Mr. Roh, who on April 22 wrote on his Web site: “You should now discard me. . . . I am no longer qualified to speak for such things as democracy, progressiveness and justice.”
Though Mr. Roh’s policies probably intensified conflict between the country’s conservative and non-conservative elements, his presidency will be remembered as a period in which South Korean citizens became able to more freely express their opinions.
The lesson of Mr. Roh’s tragic death is that too much power in the hands of a leader can spawn corruption. It is hoped that his death will not generate political instability in South Korea.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.