Opposition may impeach Hwang
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president since Park’s impeachment in December, rejected Monday independent counsel Park Young-soo’s request for a 30-day extension of his probe. With the refusal, the independent counsel team will wrap up its 70-day probe today.
“After a long deliberation, I decided to reject it,” Hwang said. “Insufficient parts of the probe should be handed over to the head of the district prosecutor’s office, which has the jurisdiction. If necessary, I will provide necessary manpower and reinforce the organization to satisfactorily conclude the investigation.”
He also added that political parties could push forward a new independent counsel probe, if an additional investigation is deemed necessary in the future.
“Over the past four months, massive protests supporting and opposing the impeachment are taking place,” Hwang added. “Politicians also failed to agree on the extension of the independent counsel probe. Depending on the Constitutional Court’s decision, the presidential election may take place early, and I have to consider politicians’ concerns that the independent counsel investigation may influence the election.”
Hwang also said he believes the independent counsel had served its purpose, as stipulated by the law. The team has prosecuted or is capable of prosecuting key suspects based on its investigation so far, he said.
Over the past months, the independent counsel team questioned powerful members of the government and the country’s largest conglomerate, as well as President Park’s controversial friend, Choi Soon-sil. Among those questioned and detained include Samsung Group’s de factor leader, Lee Jae-yong.
The team, however, failed to question President Park. She was scheduled to be questioned earlier this month but canceled the session, complaining about a media leak about the plan.
Assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Monday that the team will give up on its plan to raid the Blue House and question the president as the probe will have to wrap up today. He said Park refused audio and video recording of the questioning, after their first plan was scrapped. Since then, their negotiation had no progress to arrange a new schedule, he said. Lee also said the search-and-seizure warrant the Seoul Central District Court issued expires today.
“We believed the raid of the Blue House was necessary and decided to conduct it on Feb. 3, but our attempt was blocked by the presidential chief of staff and head of the presidential security service,” Lee said. “It is extremely regretful that a lawful warrant issued by a court was blocked. The legislature must take measures to prevent a recurrence of this situation.”
Following Hwang’s rejection of the probe extension, liberal opposition parties vowed to impeach the prime minister. The Democratic Party, the People’s Party and the Justice Party agreed to impeach Hwang.
The three liberal opposition parties together occupy 166 seats in the National Assembly, far more than the required 151 seats to pass the impeachment motion. According to Article 65 of the Constitution, a motion to impeach the prime minister must be proposed by one third or more of the total members of the National Assembly, and requires a concurrent vote of a majority of the total members of the National Assembly for passage.
If Hwang is impeached, the administration will face an unprecedented leadership vacuum. Yoo Il-ho, deputy prime minister for economy and minister for strategy and finance, will serve as the acting president and acting prime minister.
The conservative opposition Bareun Party said it will not join the move to impeach Hwang, but agreed to support the liberal parties’ plan to pass a bill to launch a new independent counsel probe. Floor leaders of the four parties agreed Monday to open an extraordinary legislative session in March for the plan.
They said the new independent counsel bill will be designed to allow the current special prosecutor, Park Young-soo, to continue to control the probe. The opposition lawmakers also increasingly pressured National Assembly Chung Sye-kyun to introduce the bill directly for a voting to bypass the ruling Liberty Korea Party’s objection to discuss the plan.
The ruling Liberty Korea Party said Monday it supports Hwang’s decision to reject the extension request. It also issued a statement to condemn the opposition parties’ attempt to impeach Hwang.
“This is an abuse of majority power in the National Assembly,” it said. “Impeaching the acting president, appointed by the constitutional procedure, is an idea that transcends the Constitution.”
The party also said the country is experiencing unprecedented chaos, and the opposition parties must not start another administrative paralysis and crisis by impeaching the acting president.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]