Toward an orderly retreatLast weekend’s massive candlelight vigil at Gwanghwamun Square will mark a new milestone in Korean democracy. The strong yet peaceful protest erased the painful memories of our past violence-ridden demonstrations. It was a wake-up call for President Park Geun-hye to step down to take responsibility for the unprecedented influence-peddling scandal involving herself and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. The large rally has once again confirmed the public call for the president to resign rather than stepping back from the frontlines of government.
The question now is how to transform such a clear and loud public call into reality. Today’s meeting between President Park and main opposition leader Choo Mi-ae could offer some feasible ways to address the current political crisis. What concerns us is Choo’s lack of communication with Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party, and splinter opposition leader Park Jie-won. We wonder if Choo harbors some other ambitions.
The two-way meeting should be focused on Park’s “orderly retreat” from government. If both fail to present a constitutional and reasonable road map toward the goal, they will instantly face public distrust. The president must make clear to Choo her intention to hand power to the National Assembly before her term ends in 15 months. Yet there are endless rumors that she has no intent to step down voluntarily. The president must understand that her criminal behavior — the abuse of power and leaks of national secrets, for instance — is sufficient to deprive her of her presidency.
Choo must promise the president that she will present a detailed political calendar to nominate a new nonpartisan prime minister as soon as possible. Even with a majority in the legislature, the liberal opposition did not make any effort to resolve the power vacuum through the legislature. Choo even demanded an immediate resignation of the president, a tough question under our Constitution.
After exchanging views at the meeting, Park must declare that she will accept the appointment of a prime minister nominated and approved by the legislature as her last act as president. The new prime minister can serve as an acting president whether the president steps down or is impeached. That’s the only way for the new prime minister to effectively fill the power vacuum.
If the president seeks to prolong her term by taking advantage of the schisms in the opposition, our democracy will head into anarchy. We urge Park to do her duty.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 30