No time for political fightsPrime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is taking charge of an embattled government for as long as eight months before the Constitutional Court delivers its final impeachment ruling and a new president is elected. During that period, he will handle domestic issues and foreign policy on behalf of Park Geun-hye. Whether Korea can overcome this unprecedented crisis and march toward a better future depends on how our politicians act from here on out.
Despite the grim reality, our politicians are engrossed in political fights to win the next presidential election. The ruling Saenuri Party is still embroiled in an internal war between the pro-Park group led by Chairman Lee Jung-hyun and the group not loyal to the president. The latter faction has begun discussions on setting up a separate emergency committee to tackle the crisis. We are dumbfounded by the alarming schisms over party leadership at a critical moment like this.
The main opposition Minjoo Party is no better. Shortly after the impeachment vote, the party’s former chairman, Moon Jae-in, called for Park’s immediate resignation. Its current leader, Choo Mi-ae, went as far as demanding Hwang also be impeached. Both have stepped back a bit, but the opposition’s call for Park’s ouster could gain momentum at any time if other presidential hopefuls — including South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung — announce their candidacy. The splinter opposition People’s Party has joined the political bandwagon by expressing its vocal opposition to Hwang’s interim government.
Now is not the time to prepare for the next presidential election. Opposition parties must first help the acting president put the administration back on track by tackling tough economic challenges in a bipartisan manner. Korea’s household debt has exceeded 1,300 trillion won ($1.1 trillion), and depressed exports, investment and consumption ring loud alarm bells, not to mention threats to national security. The improbability of an early summit with U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump poses a serious security risk to the government led by an acting president.
We see a glimmer of hope in the opposition’s proposal for the establishment of a bipartisan consultative body to weather the economic storm. The ruling party must accept it. When the president is in a vegetative state, opposition lawmakers should play a crucial role by helping stabilize the nation if they really want to take power.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 12, Page 34