[News analysis] With Pres. Park’s leadership in crisis, other options are emerging

Posted on : 2016-11-07 15:46 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Park is unlikely to accept a symbolic role as head of state, so next year’s presidential election could be held earlier
Participants at the second “Get Together! Get Angry! #Resign_ParkGeunhye Citizens’ Candlelight Assembly” expressed their views in various ways
Participants at the second “Get Together! Get Angry! #Resign_ParkGeunhye Citizens’ Candlelight Assembly” expressed their views in various ways

With the South Korean public still incensed even after President Park Geun-hye’s second public apology, politicians are considering a number of scenarios that would effectively exclude Park from running the government.

The most moderate of these scenarios is for Park to adopt a secondary role and for a neutral cabinet to be established. Under this scenario, Park would only serve a symbolic role as the head of the state - attending formal diplomatic functions, for example - while handing over all real power to the cabinet for the remainder of her time in office. This is the position currently held by the opposition Minjoo Party. The Minjoo Party demands that Park retract her nomination of Kim Byong-joon as prime minister and to nominate someone with the approval of the ruling and opposition parties who can set up a neutral cabinet.

The problem is that, even if Park accepts these demands and announces that she will move into a secondary role, she could reverse that decision at any time. The constitution gives the president the power to appoint all public servants, including the prime minister. In theory at least, Park could dismiss the prime minister of a neutral cabinet and retake control of the government once popular anger has abated somewhat. This is the reason that some are calling for Park to step down, even if only to prevent even greater chaos.

Most of the scenarios for Park stepping down would lead to the presidential election being held earlier than the scheduled time of next December. More specifically, some of these scenarios envision Park stepping down at once, while others call for a transitional cabinet to be formed, leading to an early presidential election.

If Park steps down right away, the constitution states that a new president would have to be selected within 60 days. That was what ruling Saenuri Party Floor Leader Chung Jin-suk was referring to when he argued on his Facebook page on Nov. 5 that if Park steps down, the only candidates who could run for president would be Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, the former leaders of the Minjoo and People’s parties, respectively. The heads of local government are required by Article 53, Paragraph 1, of South Korea’s Public Official Election Act to resign from their positions at least 90 days before competing in an election, Chung said, which would prevent a significant number of leading presidential contenders from both the ruling and opposition parties (including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil, South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung, Jeju Island Governor Won Hee-ryong and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung) from running.

But some lawyers argue that a presidential election triggered by Park’s resignation would count as a by-election, which would mean that these local government leaders would only have to resign 30 days before the election, according to Article 53, Paragraph 2, of the same law.

Some believe that it would not be feasible to hold a presidential election within 60 days (which is what would happen if Park steps down right away), given the need for parties to hold primaries to select their presidential candidates and given the official election campaigning period of 23 days. Those who hold this view agree that Park should step down but suggest that she should first set up a transitional neutral cabinet to minimize political confusion and hand over power to the next administration and only then move forward the schedule of the next presidential election. This position was best expressed by Justice Party Leader Shim Sang-jung during a press conference on Nov. 4. Shim argued that Park should announce that she will step down and that then the four ruling and opposition parties should work out the role and duties of a transitional neutral cabinet and decide who will lead the new cabinet in discussions presided over by the speaker of the National Assembly.

“This transitional neutral cabinet would be put in charge of managing the schedule for the handover of power, punishing infringements of constitutional authority by the current administration and managing the crisis of governance in the areas of the economy and security. At the same time, the cabinet would carefully consider the idea of moving forward the presidential election to the by-elections that are scheduled for Apr. 12 of next year to ensure that the election process goes smoothly,” Shim said.

Minjoo Party lawmaker Rep. Min Byung-du also wrote on his Facebook page on Nov. 6 that people should “get ready to hold an early presidential election six months from now.” Min argued that a transitional neutral cabinet should be formed to handle a number of duties, such as managing the presidential election that would take place in six months, to carry out a sweeping investigation into Choi Sun-sil‘s alleged influence peddling and to reform the public prosecutors, while persuading Park to agree to step down at an appropriate time according to this plan.

But considering the attitude that Park has adopted thus far, she is not very likely to accept the proposals for her to adopt a secondary role, for the next presidential election to be held early or for her to step down right away. If Park remains unwilling to negotiate and if public demand for her resignation increases, then opposition parties could push for her impeachment as a last resort. Currently, hardly anyone in the political establishment (aside from Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung) is mentioning this. Before a bill of impeachment can be submitted to the Constitutional Court, it must receive the support of at least two-thirds of lawmakers in the National Assembly (200 of the total 300). This would require opposition parties to form an alliance with lawmakers in the Saenuri Party (who are not part of the pro-Park faction). Others point out that it would be hard to present clear evidence of illegal activity to the Constitutional Court before a thorough investigation is carried out.

These scenarios are likely to be elaborated further after politicians see what happens in the next public demonstration, which is scheduled for Nov. 12.

By Lee Jung-ae, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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