One way outShe made a long detour. President Park Geun-hye entrusted the National Assembly to recommend A Prime Minister and promised that the Prime Minister can control the cabinet. Essentially, this means a bipartisan government. But she spent only 13 minutes with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun. It seems that she is not willing to give up so easily. What matters is whether she keeps her word.
President Park has made two apologies. The second apology on Nov. 4 attempted to arouse an emotional response. It didn’t sound sincere. That’s how more than half of the public felt. An MBN survey showed that 57.2 percent of the respondents did not accept the apology. Instead, the insincere apology prompted 200,000 people to go to Ganghwamun Square the next day to call for her resignation.
What went wrong? Park has a major problem understanding what people feel, much like Marie Antoinette. She doesn’t know what she has done wrong.
First, she takes Choi Soon-sil’s involvement in state affairs too lightly. She simply said that she asked Choi’s opinions to get some input about public sentiment. But specific cases of Choi’s use of her influence in appointment decisions have been revealed. Just because Choi’s daughter didn’t finish in first place in an equestrian competition, a director and a section head of a government ministry were fired, and people close to Choi were made the minister and vice minister. The voters elected Park president, but a random woman played the role. The Constitution was undermined and democracy has been betrayed. This is serious.
Second, people are worried about Park’s lack of administrative capability. Choi’s father Choi Tae-min was associated with a similar abuse of power when Park was the first daughter. But Park asks, “Has anyone suffered damages?” How does she think the Choi family accumulated such wealth? She is not capable of distinguishing what’s personal from what’s public. That’s why she is suspected of being in a cult.
Third, Park seems to be living in a different era. She said that she hoped the Mi-R and K Sports Foundations would help the economy.
Cultural content certainly plays an important role in the economy. But twisting the arms of the tycoons to raise donations only happens in an authoritarian regime.
Some reports show that her cronies attempted to take over an advertising company. Around the time Park raised funds, the businessmen were involved in legal battles, suggesting more sinister goings on. Extorting money through power is not state administration but robbery.
The foundations almost became private assets. They were filled with her friends, and a private foundation was linked. They were run like the Ilhae Foundation of former president Chun Doo Hwan. Former president Chun was imprisoned and went to live in Baekdam Temple.
Fourthly she trampled on the dreams of young people. For Choi’s daughter, school rules were changed. She received good grades without attending school and got accepted at a prestigious college. “Money is the talent,” Choi’s daughter said.
Fifth and most importantly, trust has been broken. People cannot trust any policy the government promotes from now on. The damage to international trust is more serious. Who would negotiate with such a government, exchange information and maintain cooperation? Park effectively ruined the nation.
Many think that things could have been different. She should have made the second apology first, and had the National Assembly choose the Prime Minister from the start. What’s really important is her sincerity. She cannot change people’s mind by calculating and bargaining.
Hopefully, Park will leave the cabinet alone and sincerely repent.
When she pulls back, Korea will have opportunities. With less than one year left in the term, it is about time to prepare for the next presidential election. All of this administration’s major initiatives have been spoiled through Choi Soon-sil’s influence. What can Park do when citizens are calling for her resignation? Delegating power to the National Assembly is the only way to minimize the administrative vacuum.
She can’t do anything with less than 10 percent approval ratings. No presidential candidate would work with such an unpopular president. Other agencies would also be reluctant. She is in no place to back any candidate. When she gives up everything, she can exit honorably. When she hits rock bottom, the conservatives can begin all over again.
If Korea had a parliamentary system, the government would have changed already. In the presidential system, the legitimacy of the nation depends on the president. When her approval rating is a single digit and 200,000 people protest in Gwanghwamun Square, nothing can be done. Hopefully, the new experiment of the legislature’s recommendation of a nonpartisan prime minister will be a chance for our system to survive.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 9, Page 31
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.