October 26, 2016 13:30
President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday admitted letting a crony with no official position edit some of her key speeches and made a brief apology before rushing out of the room.
But even while saying sorry she claimed she only asked for advice on "some materials," rather than admitting charges that Choi Soon-sil in effect told her what to say and do.
No sooner had she made the statement than a torrent of media reports came out suggesting that Choi's undemocratic entanglement in government went much deeper and reached into every corner of Park's opaque administration, from the trivial to the very serious indeed.
Documents related to the appointment of key Cheong Wa Dae officials and even North Korea policy were discovered in the offices of Choi and her aides. A government vice minister regularly delivered resumes to a Choi aide asking for advice on the appointment of key officials. Another aide was interviewed alleging that Choi headed several unofficial entities that served as de-facto advisory groups on state affairs.
At the other end of micromanagement, a video clip obtained by TV Chosun showed Choi with a Cheong Wa Dae official as she oversees the tailoring of an outfit the president is to wear on formal occasions, raising doubt whether Park made any decision at all without Choi.
Park for the longest time dismissed the allegations, but now that Choi is gone she seems completely headless, trying to muddy waters by suddenly proposing a constitutional revision to allow presidents to be elected for a second term, and lying even as she made her apology.
No wonder calls for Park's impeachment are growing. The public has lost all confidence in the president, and her authority now seems to have been compromised beyond repair. Even a former presidential secretary voiced his shock at the state of affairs, which he said was "unimaginable."
The legitimacy of Park's command over government ministries has also been compromised. This is no ordinary lame-duck phenomenon. This is a complete collapse of a president's ability to run a government.
Yet the country faces a complex set of security and economic challenges, and Park has more than a year left in her five-year term. A power vacuum would be catastrophic. The president, ruling party and opposition must think hard what they can do to overcome this crisis.
They must look at every measure at their disposal under the Constitution. Park may have to back out of domestic politics completely and relinquish her membership in the ruling Saenuri Party to demonstrate her resolve. She must also distance herself from any attempts to influence next year's presidential election.
Unfortunately, the Constitution permits only the president to oversee matters of national security, which means that Park will have to focus solely on dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat for the rest of her presidency. Perhaps that way she can salvage some public support.
Her entire secretariat must resign. Park has only herself to blame for her demise, but if even one or two aides had had the guts to speak up, they could perhaps have saved her. Their craven attempts to cover up for her and stand with her against the public cannot be forgiven. They must go.
The opposition is demanding the mass resignation of Park's Cabinet, but it is both impossible and unwise to hold another round of National Assembly confirmation hearings when the nation is in crisis. This is not the time to discuss the abilities of individual Cabinet members. Instead of reshuffling her Cabinet, Park should appoint a premier to oversee government and entrust him or her with economic and internal affairs for the remaining year of her term.
There is not enough time left to initiate new policies. The focus must be on salvaging the ailing shipbuilding and shipping industries, dealing with other economic sectors that are in trouble, and managing the volatile real estate market.
In appointing a caretaker premier, Park must seek the support of the opposition, and the opposition must realize that this is no time to score political points. Excessive politicking will only alienate the public further.
Whether Park is aware of the scale of the disaster is an open question. Judging by what she said on Tuesday, she appears to have a weak grasp of reality. But the only way open to her is to pull out of government and put the public good first. Many people are ashamed for her. It is time she was too.
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