Park offers to cut her presidency short

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Park offers to cut her presidency short

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President Park Geun-hye issues a statement from the Blue House on Tuesday in which she asked the National Assembly to decide the fate of her presidency and a timetable for her resignation. [NEWSIS]

President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday she will ask the National Assembly to decide the fate of her presidency, including a timeline for her resignation, a possible game changer for the opposition parties’ plan to impeach her.

The disgraced president read a statement to the nation to address a growing public clamor for her resignation over a grave abuse of power scandal. “Now, I want to make public my decision,” Park said. “I will let the National Assembly decide my fate, including a plan to shorten my presidential term. The ruling and opposition party politicians should discuss and create a plan to minimize chaos and the vacuum in state affairs and hand over the administration with stability. I will step down based on that timeline and lawful procedures.”

“I have surrendered everything now,” she said, issuing a third apology to the people - but refusing many public calls for her immediate resignation.

The third statement about the scandal, aired live, was issued as Park faced growing accusations about her role in a massive abuse of power and corruption scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil and associates.

It also came as opposition parties and some lawmakers from her own ruling party were preparing a motion to impeach her. They were planning to vote on an impeachment motion as early as Friday.

Opposition lawmakers reacted sensitively to Park’s statement on Tuesday, calling it a tactic to avoid impeachment. They made clear that they will not be deterred by her proposal and will push forward the plan to end her presidency via an impeachment.

After weeks of investigation, prosecutors indicted Choi and two former presidential aides on a range of charges, including coercion of money from big companies and misappropriation of the funds. The prosecutors called Park a “co-conspirator” in most of the alleged crimes.

Prosecutors could not indict Park because of presidential immunity stipulated in the Constitution. She can still be charged after her term ends, however. The prosecutors asked Park to submit to a face-to-face questioning in the investigation, but Park repeatedly refused to cooperate.

Separate from the prosecution’s probe, Park will also be investigated by an independent counsel. A National Assembly investigation is also scheduled to look into the wide range of accusation in the so-called Choi-gate scandal.

“I will make public the details about the scandal in the near future,” Park said Tuesday. She still insisted on her own innocence, laying the blame on Choi and former presidential aides.

“Since I entered politics in 1998 till this moment as president, I put all my efforts into serving the country and the people,” Park said. “Not for a single moment did I pursue my own gains, and I have lived a life without harboring any small selfish motive.

“Although they are in question now, I pursued [my policies] in the belief that they are public projects beneficial to the country,” she said. “And I have never acquired any personal gain through the process. Failing to properly manage the people around me was my greatest fault.”

As Park was accused by prosecutors of being a “joint primary offender” in a series of bribery charges, her plea appeared to be a defense strategy in the parallel probes being conducted.

After reading the statement, Park left the press center without taking any questions. A senior Blue House official said Tuesday Park will soon hold a press conference to answer the media’s questions.

The president’s kicking of the can to the National Assembly created some disruption to the three opposition parties’ plan to impeach her as early as this Friday with the support of ruling Saenuri Party dissidents.

“The president’s tactic to create chaos in the National Assembly will never work,” said Rep. Ki Dong-min of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea after the party’s general assembly of lawmakers. “We will respect the people’s will and unshakably concentrate on pushing forward the impeachment based on the Constitution.”

Ki said the three parties will try their best to present a joint impeachment motion this week and hold a vote on Friday. Rep. Park Jie-won, acting head of the People’s Party, also criticized Park’s move. “Park said she will follow the decision of the National Assembly because she knows that the current ruling party leadership won’t allow any agreement,” he said. “I strongly condemn the president’s dirty politics, and the three opposition parties and conscientious Saenuri lawmakers will continue to push forward the impeachment.”

By offering the National Assembly the right to decide the fate of her presidency, Park accepted the recommendations of elder statesmen and senior Park loyalists that she should step down “in an orderly manner.” That notion includes a plan for Park to announce her intention to step down and prepare for an early presidential election under the supervision of a new prime minister.

A group of 20 elder statesmen, including former National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong, proposed the idea to Park on Sunday, recommending she step down by April.

A group of diehard Park loyalists, including Rep. Suh Chung-won, made the same proposal to Park on Monday through Presidential Senior Political Secretary Hur Won-je. They called it a plan for an “orderly resignation with dignity.”

Park appeared to have taken the recommendation seriously. They urged her to allow the National Assembly to make all decisions, including her fate and a timeline for a resignation, a participant told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “They also proposed that Park should say in her next public statement that she is wiling to shorten her term and the ruling and opposition parties must make a plan,” the source said.

“Even before the recommendations, Park had many thoughts,” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “In order to avoid national chaos prompted by impeachment, Park decided it is the best to resign based on a timeline created by the legislature.”

The official said Park did not specifically announce a date for her resignation in order to avoid any unnecessary speculation. “She wanted to let the National Assembly decide everything,” he said.

If Park is trying to avoid impeachment, it could work. A sign of a rift was seen among Saenuri lawmakers who supported the idea of impeachment to end her presidency. Of the 300-member National Assembly, the three opposition parties and liberal independents occupy 172 seats as of Tuesday. At least 200 votes are required to pass the impeachment.

A group of Park adversaries in the Saenuri Party, including former Chairman Kim Moo-sung, held a meeting to decide their position on Park’s proposal. The group reached agreement that they will do their best to iron out a timetable for President Park to step down early until Dec. 9 and will support the impeachment if the effort fails.

Shortly after Park’s statement, the Saenuri leadership, which is controlled by Park loyalists, said Park made a tough decision and it will start a negotiation with the opposition parties as soon as possible to make her proposal work.

“The president asked the National Assembly to make a decision, so the legislature must deal with it wisely within the scope of the Constitution and laws,” Saenuri Chairman Lee Jung-hyun said. “Before blaming the president any further, the National Assembly should make a decision now, as the opposition parties have always demanded [her resignation.]”

Rep. Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of the ruling party, also hinted that he will ask the opposition parties to reconsider its schedule for impeachment. The Saenuri Party held a general assembly of its lawmakers to discuss Park’s announcement. Rep. Suh, a key Park loyalist, said the ruling party must work with the opposition parties to offer an orderly exit for the president. “That is our last courtesy to the president and duty to the people,” he said.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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