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[News Focus] Park fights to keep power

President Park Geun-hye may appear to be stuck in an unsolvable political fix, as she is driven into a corner by public fury, an ongoing prosecutorial probe, an imminent independent counsel investigation as well as a parliamentary inquiry -- and on top of all this, a likely impeachment trial.

But contrary to what is perceived, circumstances so far show the embattled president to be taking countermeasures against all plausible consequences, none of which involve abdication.

Park on Tuesday continued to remain secluded from the public, refraining from chairing a Cabinet meeting. It had largely been anticipated that in the absence of Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the president would preside over the meeting and present her stance over the current situation, especially given the tension over the prosecution’s attempted questioning of her.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

What Park did, instead, was to reinforce her legal representation, in an apparent gesture to fight the attacks against her.

“I understand that (Park) will increase her number of lawyers to four or five,” Cheong Wa Dae Spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk told reporters Tuesday.

But such a move was largely taken as a provision for the in-depth investigation to be led by an incoming independent counsel, or even for the impeachment proceedings, not as a response to the incumbent prosecution probe.

Following the investigators’ recent decision to name her as an “accomplice” to the influence-peddling by her aides, Park effectively cut off all communication with the prosecution, referring to the ongoing probe as “politically biased.”

The prosecutors’ indictment Sunday had stated Park as accomplice to her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and former Senior Secretary An Chong-bum in their coercive funding activities for the Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation.

(The Korea Herald)
(The Korea Herald)

Lashing out at the arraignment, the president immediately said through her lawyer and spokesperson that she would no longer “cooperate” with the prosecution, alluding that she would rather face an impeachment trial.

While deterring the ongoing prosecutorial probe, Park approved a Cabinet-passed bill to empower an independent counsel to probe the Choi scandal.

Based on this bill, which took effect immediately, two candidates for the counsel are to be suggested, both by the opposition parties. The president will choose one of them.

Though the incoming counsel is to involve the largest-ever team and extensive investigation authority, it also has a time limit -- 20 days of preparation and 70 days of investigation. Only the president is entitled to extend the investigation period by another 30 days.

The assumption is that Park, considering such restrictions, chose to skip the prosecutors’ questioning and move directly to the independent counsel investigation, as it would likely buy her a few more weeks to prepare for questioning.

“President Park will prepare for a neutral probe by an independent counsel,” said her lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha.

Some foes of Park predict that the president may reject the special counsel probe under the claims that it is not “neutral” and instead choose to focus on the main battle ahead -- the impreachment trial.

In South Korea, the final decision of whether to remove a sitting president from office rests with the Constitutional Court.

Park is seen as having a chance of avoiding the sanction, as the decision requires the consent of six of nine judges, with two justices to retire next year and their successors to be appointed by Park.

As for the parliamentary inquiry, which is to take place separately from either probe, the Blue House has so far made few comments, despite the fact that several of its key former officials were included in the process as witnesses.

It has been speculated nevertheless that the legislature-led inquiry is the reason why several pro-president figures within the ruling Saenuri Party, including chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, are still refusing to step down -- so that they may retain power and help Park.

By Bae Hyun-jung(tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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