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‘Park should own up’

Political parties must come together to put end to crisis of national leadership, experts say

A crisis of leadership is engulfing South Korea as a scandal unravels indicating President Park Geun-hye may have let her civilian friend meddle in state affairs.

The following are excerpts from The Korea Herald’s telephone interviews with five political experts on the Choi Soon-sil scandal and what the country should do to move ahead.

The Korea Herald: What should President Park do to best address the current situation? 

Yang Seung-ham, professor of politics at Yonsei University: The president should lay bare the truth -- everything that happened before the prosecutors’ inspection. She knows it all. She should explain and sincerely apologize. She has lost legitimacy. The prime minister should step up to proceed with state affairs, including next year’s election and reshuffling of the Cabinet. Park may have to just step aside and hold the presidential title until the term ends. 

Lee Nae-young, professor of political science at Korea University: The president is to blame. The president has the utmost responsibility over the whole incident. Her current stance of not saying a word on the matter is worsening the situation. Rumors are spreading that the prosecution (investigating the scandal) is acting as part of a prearranged scenario (to cover it up). Park should understand the anger of the people and step up to resolve the current mess. She should (first) apologize sincerely.

Shin Yul, professor of politics at Myongji University: There’s nothing she can do. No action will gain sympathy. How would an apology change the people’s angry minds now?

Yoon Tae-gon, senior political analyst at Moa Agenda Strategy: The president should play the key role in solving this crisis. Because she is keeping quiet right now, further investigation is difficult. She should come forward and say she, herself, and Cheong Wa Dae will undergo investigation.

Yoon Pyeong-joong, political philosophy professor at Hanshin University: It is basically impossible for the president to wield authority in the current situation. She should back down. This scandal should hold priority over North Korea’s nuclear tests and the economy right now, because she has lost legitimacy as president. 

KH: What should political parties do?

Yang: The ruling party’s proposal for a neutral Cabinet is wrong. I think it is only a strategic move. The lawmakers should make sure the probe is conducted thoroughly. We should give them a chance to either choose to put forth a powerful prime minister, or to have an early election next year. The time is not for parties to cause unnecessary fights. The president should also be investigated, if not in person, then via written statements. The politicians should see this case as a chance to reinforce constitutionalism at this time when national status has fallen to rock bottom.

Lee: Ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Lee Jeong-hyun is keeping his position (despite having been loyal to the president), but I have little doubt that the pro-Park faction of the party will soon collapse.  
How the opposition party deals with the situation is very important, but they also have taken some wrong steps. The authority of the president has already rotted, so the opposition should have a strong sense of responsibility, instead of calculating the next steps.  

Shin: When Korea’s politics face the question of holding or falling, the parties should consider making the right moves. Hassling about a nonparty Cabinet does not look good. The opposition is not accepting the coalition government proposal as it is calculating (its moves) for the upcoming election. In the end, the opposition party will have to accept it anyway.

Yoon Tae-gon: With Cheong Wa Dae, the Saenuri Party has lost its authority. The opposition parties should take a lead in standing committees to handle budget deliberation and other pending parliamentary tasks. 

Yoon Pyeong-joong: I see no practical exit other than the opposition party accepting the proposal for a neutral Cabinet. It will then open up ways to patch up the crisis.

KH: What is civil society’s role in this?

Yang: When a government sets foot in the wrong direction, civic organizations should raise their voices and correct it. Condemnation and pressure is needed, but they should not be extended over a long period of time. The public should point out and keep an eye on those trying to cover up the scandal related to the president.

Lee: I understand public sentiment demanding the resignation or impeachment of the president. It may, however, be difficult to realize with the next year’s presidential election just around the corner. Such demands should take the role of giving pressure only. Fact finding and a special prosecution should be operated as planned. 

Shin: People call for the president’s resignation and impeachment, but they should think further about what will be done after such measures are taken. There is no discussion over whether they will carry forward with a Constitution revision or prepare for a new election.

Yoon Tae-gon: Different parts of society should speak for themselves. Calling for a proper and thorough probe is just the minimum the general public can do.

Yoon Pyeong-joon: People should speak out and condemn (the scandal). The fundamental identity of a civil society lies in independence and autonomy. It should be free from the government. It is hard to find a time when the Korean society found unity, except for the democratic uprising in 1987. It was 1987 when the current Constitution was revised to a direct election system. Now, unity is stronger than then, with all people regardless of their age, gender and region voicing one opinion. This whole Park Geun-hye scandal is unprecedented in history. There will be no exit other than the resignation of the president herself. This confusing crisis cannot be resolved without Park taking responsibility. A historical lesson tells us there has been no group with vested rights to give up power by their own will. Chaos is inevitable. This is a power game between civic society and the inner circle of the president. 

Staff reporter Jo He-rim contributed to this report.

By Yeo Jun-suk (