(Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
By Mona Suzuki
Recently, a political revelation was exposed surrounding the Korean President Park Geun-Hyue. The root of the scandal involved Park basing every decision she made, both personal and political, on the advices from her secret life-long friend, Choi Soon-sil. Choi then used Park’s connections to raise and embezzle millions of dollars for personal use on her two foundations. With Choi now under arrest, Park’s specific role in this theft is currently being investigated.
Since the exposure, Park apologized publicly on television twice, saying that she is “heartbroken”, yet will not stand down. However, with the most recent apology on Tuesday, Park made clear her willingness to resign from the position of prime minister before the term ends. “I am giving up everything now,” she said. Park admitted to no legal wrongdoings, and rather than deciding her resignation date by herself, said she would let the National Assembly decide, “including the shortening of (her) term.” “If the governing and opposition parties inform me of the way to minimize the confusion and vacuum in the state affairs and ensure a stable transfer of power, I will step down as president according to their schedule and legal procedures,” she said.
However, Park was not met with warm support from the South Korean population. Park’s approval ratings on a poll by Gallup Korea last week plummeted of five percent, the lowest rating since South Korea’s 1987 democracy. Two weeks in a row on a Saturday night, protests were held all throughout Central Seoul against Park, making accusations against her speech that her speech was mainly a method to create delay and confusion. “The only thing she confirmed today was that she still didn’t realize what she had done wrong,” one of the protestors said.
Her speech was met with serious doubts from opposition lawmakers as well. They expressed that the offer was an attempt to buy some time, and avoid impeachment. Youn Kwan-suk, a spokesperson for the opposition Democratic party said that the speech was a “trick” which “lacked reflection”. “This is nothing buy a sly trick to avoid impeachment. What the people want was her immediate resignation,” he says. Park’s justice minister resigned last week, stating that he cannot serve her while she is suspected and at risk of impeachment. Former prime ministers, religious leaders, and parliament members have also asked her to step down in April for the country to prepare an election for the next president.
However, some lawmakers supporting Park are currently urging her to hand over the day-to-day management of domestic affairs over to the prime minister. On Tuesday, Park claimed to have “agonized over countless nights” for what was best for Korea. She then proposed to the lawmakers her readiness to let the prime minister control the cabinet if she is given the authority to appoint a new prime minister. “I will appoint (the prime minister) and let him control the cabinet,” she said. However, it is now up to the parliament to decide. The rival party must win the governing party lawmakers over for the impeachment bill to pass. If the parliament passes a motion for Park’s impeachment, she will be suspended from her presidential duties and position. The current unpopular prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, will take her place temporarily.
The possibility of her impeachment is currently unclear. Before her resignation speech, it looked certain that Park will be impeached on Friday, with so little support or mercy for her. Even members of her party requested Park to step down graciously, and choose an “honorable retreat”. However, now that she offered to resign publicly, a negotiation must take place between the rival parties regarding the next step to take. for A member of her party, Suh Chung-won said, “Now that the president said she would step down, the opposition’s argument that she should be impeached because she refused to resign has lost ground.” Those who support Park in her party are now proposing a postponement of her vote and decision until December 9th to give time to negotiate.
If Park decides to resign, she would be the first president to do so in 56 years since Syngman Rhee’s 1960 exile in Hawaii. Many have claimed that her resignation, rather than her impeachment, will provide closure, as well as prevention of political uncertainty within Korea, for they believe that impeachment will further aggravate and destabilize the government.