Beleaguered President's Options Narrow

  • By Sun Jung-min

    November 14, 2016 13:32

    President Park Geun-hye's grip on the job is looking increasingly tenuous as prosecutors prepare to question her after 1 million people marched on Cheong Wa Dae on Saturday to demand her resignations.

    Park's close friend Choi Soon-sil, the focus of an influence peddling scandal that leads straight to Park's inner sanctum, is expected to be indicted this week, which is likely to scuttle any remaining deniability in the bizarre affair.

    Meanwhile the opposition parties have switched from signaling willingness to let Park limp to the end her term with many of her powers devolved, to joining calls for her resignation.

    Park apparently wants to address the public for a third time this week, a course of action in which she has notoriously little practice, after two earlier apologies failed to rein in the ire.

    The Chosun Ilbo asked pundits what her remaining options are.

    Participants hold up candles at a mass rally in downtown Seoul on Saturday.

    ◆ Orderly Resignation

    If Park is removed from office now and a new presidential election held within 60 days, it would lead to chaos as ill-prepared candidates jump into the race.

    This is why both ruling and opposition parties are calling for an orderly resignation. Park would step down in due course by creating the least amount of uproar, and an acting leader would steer the nation until the reins can be handed over to a new president.

    Saenuri Party lawmakers hold an emergency meeting in the National Assembly on Sunday.

    This is stipulated in Article 71 of the Constitution. An ordinary prime minister has limited powers to appoint and sack Cabinet members. But a prime minister assuming the role of an acting leader would wield the same power as a president, including full control over the military.

    Opposition party lawmakers say Park is no longer in a position to handle domestic affairs, but Cheong Wa Dae officials point out that ceding full control of national and foreign affairs to the prime minister could violate the Constitution. The appointment of an acting leader would solve those dilemmas.

    ◆ Immediate Resignation vs. Impeachment

    Park's other choices are to resign immediately, be impeached or try and hold the line.

    If Park steps down immediately, the incumbent prime minister rather than an acting leader would take over, according to the Constitution. Elections would follow within 60 days and also cover mayors and provincial governors.

    That would mean UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose term ends on Dec. 31 and who is the favored candidate of the conservative camp, would probably be unable to run as the 60-day period gives him no time to campaign.

    Minjoo Party lawmakers (left) and People's Party lawmakers join a mass rally in downtown Seoul on Saturday.

    Impeachment is possible if the president has violated the law or Constitution. It needs a majority of lawmakers (151) to propose it and more than two thirds (200) to agree. A decision must be reached within 180 days after an impeachment proposal is ratified by the National Assembly.

    Once the Constitutional Court authorizes the impeachment, an election is held within 60 days, but the entire process takes about eight months which would mean June of next year if the process starts now.

    Opposition lawmakers have 171 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly, so they will needs to persuade 29 ruling-party lawmakers to support them. Six out of nine Constitutional Court justices must come on board as well.

    The last option is for Park to try and remain in office as protests mount and any willingness to cooperate among civil servants and politicians gradually erodes. This would probably mean extended chaos and paralysis of all government business.

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