South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Friday he will pardon his chief conservative rival and predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is serving a lengthy prison term for bribery and other crimes. Moon’s liberal government said the pardon is meant to promote national unity in the face of difficulties brought by the pandemic. Some observers say Moon may want to ease conservative criticism stemming from Park’s health problems, or even use her to split the opposition ahead of a presidential election in March, the AP reports. "We should move into a new era by getting over the pains of the past," Moon said in remarks released by his office. "In the case of former President Park, we considered the fact that her health condition has deteriorated a lot after serving nearly five years in prison."
The Justice Ministry said the 69-year-old Park is among 3,094 people who are to be pardoned on Dec. 31. South Korea often grants special pardons to mark New Year's Day or national holidays. Park has been treated since last month in a hospital, from where she will be released, the ministry said. Officials refused to elaborate on Park’s health, but local media said she has been suffering from a lumbar disc, a shoulder injury, and dental problems as well as mental stress. Park, a daughter of assassinated dictator Park Chung-hee, was once the darling of conservatives in South Korea. She won election as South Korea’s first female president in late 2012 by beating Moon, then a unified liberal candidate, by a million votes.
She was impeached by lawmakers in late 2016, and was formally removed from office and arrested the following year over an explosive corruption scandal that prompted months of massive street protests. Park was succeeded by Moon, who easily won a special presidential by-election while the conservatives were in disarray amid fierce internal feuding over Park’s ouster. In January, the Supreme Court upheld her 20-year prison term. Moon's single five-year term as president ends in May and he is barred by law from seeking reelection. His office said Park’s pardon has nothing to do with the presidential election. "Moon may be accused of trying to influence the next election, but releasing a predecessor from prison has precedent in Korean politics," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
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