09 Dec 2016

South Korean President Park Keeps Silence Ahead Of Impeachment Vote


President Park Geun-hye kept silent Thursday without holding any official events on the eve of a National Assembly vote to impeach her over the unfolding presidential corruption scandal.

The last time she showed herself in public was Tuesday when she met with the Saenuri Party Chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun and floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk at the Assembly.

At the time, she was quoted by Chung as saying that she will accept the result of an impeachment vote and will wait for the Constitutional Court's verdict if the motion is passed.

Since then, Park has not delivered any messages despite her earlier indication of giving a fourth address to the nation to explain details of the mounting allegations surrounding her. Park indicated her intention to deliver this address when giving her third one, Nov. 29, during which she said, "I will reveal the details soon. You (journalists) can ask questions, then."

Her plan to give the fourth address was apparently retracted after lawmakers of the ruling party, who do not support the scandal-ridden President, once again vowed to vote with the opposition parties. This apparently left no more options for Park to overturn her unfavorable situation.

If at least 28 lawmakers of the governing party vote in favor of impeachment in addition to 172 opposition and independent lawmakers, the motion is passed.

The approval of the motion by the Assembly will lead to an immediate suspension of the President from her official duties. Park is completely stripped of power if the Constitutional Court concurs that she committed a crime that makes her unfit to serve, after up to six months of deliberation. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will play as acting head of state until the court's verdict is issued.

The high-profile corruption and influence-peddling scandal, which was brought to the fore in late October, has left Park's leadership in tatters. The prosecution named the President as a prime suspect in the scandal, in which her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil was indicted, Nov. 20, for allegedly interfering in state affairs and extorting local conglomerates to accumulate wealth for herself.

According to Cheong Wa Dae officials, Park has stayed in the presidential office and watched the televised parliamentary hearings into the scandal conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. She also received related reports from her aides, officials said, adding that she was discussing state affairs with her secretaries as usual.

Opposition parties are calling on Park to step down immediately after the motion is passed, but the presidential office said the President will wait until the court issues a verdict.

"Park will calmly watch the result of the vote and await the court's deliberations if the motion is passed," a Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity. "And then, she will cope with the follow-up situation." 

The comment was in line with one made by Park during her meeting with Lee and Chung, which was construed as her saying she would follow the whole time-consuming impeachment procedure to the end, and has no intention to step down on her own after the passage of the motion.

Some observers expect Park to begin fierce debates on the legal aspects of the suspicions surrounding her, including a bribery allegation, to prove she is legally innocent. This is apparently based on her hope that the top court will overturn her impeachment, which will restore her power as president.

If the motion is disapproved at the Assembly, Park may have two choices.

She could announce her intention to follow the ruling party's earlier decision to push for her resignation by April and an early presidential poll in June, or she could remain in power until her given term expires in February, 2018.

Observers say, however, that there is slim chance for her to stay in power until the termination of her tenure as angry citizens nationwide have been strongly calling for her to step down.

(KT)

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