The reckoning point

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The reckoning point

President Park Geun-hye got the entire country’s attention and united it as one for the first time in her three years and eight months in office. Unfortunately, it was through the scandal over her weird relationship with longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. The people are demanding the president step down for disgracing the nation and almost wrecking our governing system by sharing her elected power with a middle-aged female friend with a highly questionable background, credentials and motives. This is the price she must pay for surrendering her service to a clandestine inner circle instead of working for the people. Protestors at candlelight vigils are enraged that their taxes went to enrich and empower a cult.

The embattled president has kicked out all the aides implicated in the scandal and members of the cabal that worked in the shadows suddenly surfaced and turned themselves in to prosecutors. Choi pleaded for forgiveness. But she is not expected to honestly answer many questions. The Blue House refused to let investigators through its gates for a search. A senior presidential secretary acting as a guard for the shadowy group tried to give orders to the suspects through an untraceable phone. Tragedy is quickly turning to farce.

We may be heading for the worst resolution. The president must get her act together. She must come to a full awareness that she is the beginning and end to this crisis. She must come forward and confess — surrender herself to a prosecution probe — before it is too late.

Only then will her cult companions cooperate fully with the investigation. She must organize a nonpartisan cabinet and yield authority to the head of the cabinet, the prime minister. The only other route out of this crisis is resignation or impeachment. Park will be deceiving the nation once more if she attempts to resolve the crisis by sweeping the truth under the carpet. This cannot end until we fully know why someone like Choi Soon-sil was able to penetrate the presidential office, get access to confidential information and files and influence state budgeting — and whether she really bullied companies to donate money to her organizations. Who exactly in the Blue House and government assisted her?

Park has lost all moral authority and it’s hardly unreasonable to question her ability to govern — especially without Choi barking directions from the wings. But she still occupies a position awarded to her in a popular vote of the people. The value of the presidency must be upheld. We must differentiate the individual and the president. The individual is a mess, but her position must be protected. In February 2013, Park made a solemn vow to abide by the Constitution, protect the nation, and work to promote peaceful unification, freedom and the well-being of the people. She is the ultimate defender of the Constitution and her primary role is to uphold basic sovereign rights, rights to human dignity, happiness and equality.

The abuses of power we have learned of so far directly infringed on the citizens’ rights to dignity, happiness and equality. The president is at the heart of the problem. She must therefore willingly comply with the investigation and tell the truth. Once the truth is revealed, those who violated the law could be punished and the national governing system can be restored. There is only one way to recover the order that has been undermined by an illegitimate cabal of power seekers. If she helps to uncover the wrongdoings no matter how painful and shameful it may be, she will be appreciated for leaving the presidency with a minimum of decency. The presidency may be scathed but it will be intact.

The president is entirely cornered. Her loyalists enjoyed various privileges but none were genuine enough to talk her out of abusing the power of her office by offering it to a friend. Former lawmaker Jeon Yeo-ok said it would have been better if the president had weaknesses. The loyalists made sure that power was kept in their own hands, and made a mess out of politics and the economy. With her ears and eyes blinded, Park could hear the voices of the people. Former U.S. ambassador to Seoul Donald Gregg, in a recent interview with the local media, advised the president to find an exit from the catastrophe by telling the truth. U.S. President Richard Nixon was forced to resign because he fell to the temptation of lies, and not entirely because of the break-in at the Watergate complex.

In her diary on Jan. 13, 1992, before she dipped her toe into politics, Park wrote that “anything done out of selfish greed would end, without exception, in pain and a sense of emptiness.” She must ruminate on her own words and go through the mea culpa. The outcome may be bitter, but a president that endeavored to uphold the Constitution could one day be pardoned. Her point of reckoning is now.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 2, Page 31

*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Ha-kyung
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