Step aside, President Park

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Step aside, President Park

This weekend’s massive candlelight demonstration at Gwanghwamun Square attended by 200,000 citizens ranging from toddlers to octogenarians says it all. They gathered in central Seoul to vehemently protest President Park Geun-hye’s second apology on Friday, which fell way short of their expectations. Their outrage over the unprecedented influence-peddling scandal involving the president’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil seems to have reached a point of no return.

The only way for the president to finish her term, albeit symbolically, is to withdraw her unilateral nomination of Kim Byong-joon as the new prime minister and install one in agreement with the National Assembly. She then would have to hand over her presidential authority to the new prime minister so that he or she can establish a neutral cabinet. After that, Park must leave the ruling Saenuri Party to help the new cabinet run the administration smoothly.

Presidential aides say Park is trying to find an effective way to show her sincerity after recognizing the strong public uproar. If she fails to present a solution within this week, public outrage will spin out of control.

A new crisis is coming from the president’s laid-back attitude toward the scandal. Despite the scandal essentially being about her, not Choi, the president still appears to believe her actions were pure and that the nation will suffer if she steps down. Such a naïve justification will not work now.

The Blue House says President Park will do her best to convince opposition parties. But they will never accept what she says, as they have confirmed the public’s anger against the president, as represented by her shameful approval rating of 5 percent. All responsibility for the abysmal crisis in leadership must be borne by the president.

President Park must first make clear her intention of transferring all power to a new bipartisan prime minister, then step aside from state affairs and leave the Saenuri Party. After that, she must demonstrate her will to discuss all issues, including her resignation, at a meeting with opposition leaders.

The ruling party must also be reborn. Chairman Lee Jung-hyun has lost his credibility after rubber-stamping orders from the Blue House. Korea is facing an unheard-of crisis at home, coupled with uncertainties from the U.S. presidential election abroad. If the Saenuri Party wants to weather the crisis, Lee must step down quickly and invite a respectful leader from outside to hand the party over to an emergency leadership.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 34
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