Sincerity is the keyIn a speech at the National Assembly on Monday, President Park Geun-hye made the bombshell announcement that her government plans to amend our Constitution and get rid of the five-year, single term presidency. That is big news, but the public is taking it with a giant grain of salt. Most people interpret it as a ruse for the president to detract attention from a snowballing political scandal.
First of all, Park did not made any remarks about the ever-deepening allegations of influence-peddling, corruption and power abuse swirling around Choi Soon-sil, a core member of the president’s inner circle, and Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. The prosecution launched an investigation into mounting suspicions about the mysterious establishment of the Mi-R Foundation and the K-Sports Foundation, both of which involve Choi.
Prosecutors only kicked off the probe after both Choi and her daughter — also under scrutiny for favors she allegedly received from Ewha Womans University — disappeared. Secretary Woo triggered outrage from the ruling Saenuri Party as well as the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea by refusing to appear as a witness at the National Assembly’s regular audit of the government.
There are few, if any, members of the public who believe Woo could act like that without the president’s encouragement. Under such circumstances, Park raised the volatile issue of constitutional reform before calling for legislative support for next year’s budget and other urgent bills. That’s why the public increasingly believes that the president is trying to divert public attention from the snowballing suspicions engulfing her confidantes. The opposition camp immediately attacked her by demanding that Park first apologize for such a blatantly obvious political maneuver.
Amending the Constitution threatens to become, in the words of the president herself, a black hole sucking the oxygen out of discussions of all other national issues. It was Park who put the brakes on the political debate over constitutional revision. She criticized President Roh Moo-hyun when he raised the issue, calling him a “very bad president.”
Politicians can change their positions. But the changes should be accompanied by efforts to clear public distrust about the changes. The president should have candidly explained what really happened to Choi and Woo. Monday’s address at the legislature was a good opportunity for the commander in chief to clear all the lingering doubts, but she chose to speak only about what she wanted to.
A constitutional amendment is one thing, scandals are another. If the president is suspected to be using the amendment to cover up misconduct by her aides and friends, constitutional revision becomes harder. If she really wants the public to believe in her sincerity in pushing for an amendment, she must first clear all the noise. That’s the way to address our national divisions and eventually revising our Constitution.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 25, Page 30