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Speculation grows that president may quit soon

Feb 24,2017
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Park Geun-hye
Speculation is growing in political circles that President Park Geun-hye will resign before the Constitutional Court rules on her impeachment in the coming weeks in a bid to delay — or avoid — the criminal justice process over her alleged abuse of power and corruption.

Conservative politicians are increasingly suggesting that a political resolution — Park’s voluntary resignation — is desirable as the Constitutional Court gets closer to ruling on whether to remove her from the presidency. Closing arguments in Park’s impeachment trial will take place on Monday. A ruling is expected before Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi retires on March 13.

The idea of Park’s voluntary resignation is not new, but neither is it certain. When she faced growing accusations about her role in a massive abuse of power and corruption scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil at the end of last year, elder statesmen and diehard Park loyalists proposed a plan that Park resign by April and a presidential election be held in June. In her third public apology on Nov. 29, 2016, Park offered to cut her presidency short, but the National Assembly rejected her proposal and overwhelmingly passed a motion to impeach her 10 days later.

As the impeachment trial and an independent counsel investigation went ahead, the idea of Park’s resignation was shelved. But conservative politicians recently revived it.

On Feb. 13, Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the ruling Liberty Korea Party, revived the idea by saying that impeachment of an incumbent president is a grave misfortune for the country that would lead to tremendous uncertainty. He said the ruling and opposition parties should find a political resolution.

Two days later, In Myung-jin, acting head of the ruling party, reiterated the idea of Park’s “honorable resignation.”

Chung took the idea further in a media interview Wednesday. “I heard that the Blue House already considered the possibility,” he said. He also hinted that he discussed the issue with the Blue House. “There is something, but I don’t want to talk about it now,” he said. “I still want to leave nuance.”

Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the conservative opposition Bareun Party, also talked about finding a political solution to the situation. “The Blue House and the president must seriously consider if there is a way to unite the people and overcome this crisis before a ruling is handed down in the impeachment trial,” he said Tuesday.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Joo said the country will face an irreparable split no matter what decision the court makes. “We should find an alternate resolution,” he said. “Politics means finding the best resolution for the given circumstance.”

According to a key member of the LKP, the two floor leaders already discussed the issue. “We are frequently contacting the Blue House,” he said.

Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, chairman of the Bareun Party, addressed the idea with his Democratic Party counterpart Rep. Choo Mi-ae on Tuesday, according to a Bareun Party source. “I heard that the resignation would come on Sunday,” Choung was quoted as telling Choo.

Choo replied that the scandal and the impeachment must be resolved on principles, no matter what decision Park makes.

Supporters of the so-called political resolution said any investigation or prosecution of Park, identified as a co-conspirator in almost all charges investigated by the prosecution and independent counsel, should be delayed until after the next presidential election. Chung, the ruling party floor leader, said an investigation or prosecution will affect voters’ sentiments during the campaigns.

Park has refused to be questioned by the prosecution and the independent counsel in two separate but related probes. Attempts to raid the Blue House for evidence were also blocked. The Constitution also gives Park immunity from criminal prosecution as long as she is president.

Opposition parties made clear they will bring Park to justice. They said any political deal based on her voluntary resignation should be seen as an attempt to shut down a criminal prosecution of Park.

“If Park resigns, the presidential election campaign will begin immediately,” Rep. Park Jie-won, head of the People’s Party, said. “The prosecution will take over the investigation after the independent counsel’s mandate ends. The prosecutors won’t be able to conduct a proper investigation during the campaign period. Park will buy more time, and her loyalists will pressure presidential candidates or the presidential-elect [to let her go].”

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the DP, said in an interview with CBS radio on Thursday that “the idea is completely absurd if it was intended to shield her from prosecution after she is removed from the presidency.”

The conservative opposition Bareun Party was split. While its floor leader promoted the idea, its chairman, Choung, said Park must stop resorting to tricks. “She must let the Constitutional Court make a ruling undisturbed,” he said.

The Blue House denied the whole idea of a resignation. “We never considered it,” a presidential aide said. “Park will ride out the impeachment process.”
Meanwhile, the opposition parties’ attempt to revise the law governing the independent counsel to extend its investigation period failed Thursday, as National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun refused to arrange a vote in the face of a ruling party protest. Unless Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president, grants an extension, the probe will end on Tuesday.


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