Pressed by the prosecution’s tightening grip on key presidential aides involved in the Choi Soon-sil scandal, Cheong Wa Dae on Sunday grappled to find a breakthrough in the political standoff with opposition parties.
Its priority appears to be obtaining parliamentary approval for Prime Minister nominee Kim Byong-joon, who President Park Geun-hye appointed last week in the hope of bringing new momentum to stalled state affairs and appeasing public anger over the scandal.
Kim Byong-joon (Yonhap)
The Blue House held a meeting of senior presidential secretaries Sunday afternoon, under the chairmanship of the recently appointed Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok, according to officials.
This was the first official occasion led by the new chief of staff since he was named for the post last Thursday.
“It is with a heavy heart that we embrace the stern message from the people, which was shown at Gwanghwamun Square yesterday,” Han said at the meeting.
He also urged senior secretaries to unite and to cooperate in normalizing state affairs, possibly to defuse persistent complaints over the president’s recent staff reshuffling.
Park, who is facing increasing public fury after her second address to the nation Friday, was not there.
The key agenda of Sunday’s meeting, according to officials, was to promote the president’s communication with the legislature, especially through a possible summit involving the top three political parties.
The secretariat also agreed on sending an official request to the National Assembly within the upcoming week, asking that the personnel confirmation hearing be held for Prime Minister nominee Kim.
Kim, whose appointment has largely been criticized as the president’s attempt to bypass the political crises, said Saturday that he will not reject the nomination.
“That is not an option,” he said, when asked whether he is willing to decline the nomination.
However, Kim’s inauguration as prime minister is facing hurdles due to resistance by the opposition. If the three opposition parties -- the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, runner-up People’s Party and the progressive minority Justice Party -- use their joint majority to veto the mandatory parliamentary hearing, Kim will be unable to assume the post.
For the presidential office, Kim taking office as prime minister is deemed the only alternative to “lesser desirable” options such as a neutral Cabinet consisting of ruling and opposition figures, or even the president’s resignation.
“Last week, (Park) placed focus on expressing apologies while this coming week will be more about finding actual solutions (to the current circumstances),” said a Cheong Wa Dae official.
It is likely that the president will meet with the leaders of political parties as early as this week to seek for their cooperation in confirming the prime minister nominee and resuming stalled state affairs, the official added.
The top officials’ meeting came in the wake of the prosecution’s detention of An Chong-bum, former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, and Jeong Ho-seong, former personal secretary to the president.
Both key officials are currently undergoing questioning over their alleged connections to the much-disputed presidential confidante Choi -- An for coercively raising funds for two foundations allegedly controlled by Choi, and Jeong for delivering to Choi a series of confidential state documents including presidential speeches.
On Sunday, Woo Byung-woo, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, finally appeared at the prosecutor’s office, heeding a months-long call to ascertain the truth over his suspected involvement in high-profile corruption cases.
By Bae Hyun-jung (email@example.com)