Park’s last option

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Park’s last option

The railroad of impeachment is building up steam. The opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and People’s Party are a step closer to submitting a motion to the National Assembly to impeach President Park Geun-hye as early as Dec. 12 for her abuse of power in a case involving the president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

The rapid strides toward impeachment reflect the public’s overwhelming demand for Park’s resignation and a surge in the number of ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers who support the motion. The two opposition parties are discussing whether to add a bribery charge before finalizing a single motion.

Park’s refusal — again — to accept the prosecution’s call for in-person questioning and her appointments of high-level officers in the police under such circumstances truly shocks us. That’s nothing less than self-destructive behavior. Could a president really appoint top law enforcement officials when she could be suspended from her own duties in a few days?

The president seems to harbor the hope that she can return to the front lines of government if the impeachment motion is voted down in the legislature. Park must wake up from such a futile dream. She also appears to expect that she can control the government even after Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn takes over after her impeachment. That’s sheer nonsense. The public outrage vented in the massive candlelight vigils will never allow for it.

All her reactions show that Park, now a criminal suspect and alleged accomplice in the corruption scandal, still believes that remaining in office is better for her safety and legal defense. If she has any patriotism left — as when she took the presidential oath in February 2013 — she must immediately declare a retreat from government in a few months as suggested by senior statesmen, including former National Assembly speaker Park Kwan-yong and former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo.

They suggested that the president first declare her stepping down from government before the impeachment vote; then the National Assembly could appoint a powerful, nonpartisan prime minister to take the place of the president; each political party can prepare for an early presidential election; and then Park will leave the Blue House. If the president chooses such a path, the legislature does not need an impeachment vote.

In the United States, President Richard Nixon stepped down in 1974 before the Congress’ vote to impeach him for the Watergate scandal. If Park follows in his footsteps, she can avoid the stigma attached to impeachment while allowing political parties to brace for the next presidential race in an orderly way. If Park rejects that option, however, impeachment is unavoidable. In that case, the nation will fall into an unrivaled leadership vacuum.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 29, page 30

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