Don’t make a disgraceful exit

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Don’t make a disgraceful exit

National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, who is under suspicion of bribing ruling party peers to win a leadership election in 2008, has denied allegations against him. He told reporters upon returning from an overseas trip that he does not remember events surrounding the election, which took place four years ago. But he said he won’t run in the April legislative elections and will respect the prosecution’s findings.

The opposition Democratic Unity Party has demanded that Park immediately step down, and the Grand National Party’s emergency leader Park Geun-hye urged full cooperation with the prosecution’s probe. She also said the issue of the speaker’s potential resignation should be discussed among floor leaders at the National Assembly, suggesting the GNP should consider the opposition’s petition for the speaker’s dismissal.

Park Hee-tae may genuinely not remember what took place four years ago, but various circumstantial evidence points to him. His secretary, Koh Myung-jin, admitted that he received an envelope containing 3 million won ($2,600) from GNP Representative Koh Seung-duk, who first blew the whistle on the vote-buying scandal involving Park.

Moreover, Ahn Byung-yong, a key supporter of Park during the 2008 GNP race, was arrested on charges of handing out money to GNP members. Park’s chief policy secretary, Jo Jeong-man, who was in charge of finances during Park’s campaign, is suspected of giving illegal orders to Ahn.

Speaker Park has a duty to cooperate fully with the investigation. A National Assembly speaker has never been summoned by the prosecution, and the public fears his important status could water down the investigation. Recently, Park has drawn criticism for trying to avoid difficult questions from the prosecution by using his position as the top executive of the legislature.

Regardless of the prosecution’s findings, Park must take responsibility for his aides’ involvement in bribery and election corruption. And another one of Park’s secretaries has been arrested on suspicion of collaborating in the cyberattack against the National Election Commission’s Web site on the day of the Seoul mayoral by-election in October.

Park must now look at his circumstances with a clear head and deal with them honestly and with dignity. If the ruling and opposition parties pass a bill calling for his resignation and kick him out of office, he would be forced to make a very disgraceful exit.
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