President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday said that she would let the National Assembly decide the fate of her presidency.
“I shall lay my course of action, including a curtailment of my presidential term, to the decision of the National Assembly,” Park said in an address to the nation.
“Should the political circles suggest a way in which I may hand over power so as to minimize chaos and the vacuum in state affairs, I shall step down from the presidency according to the given time line and legal procedure.”
Park’s term as the nation’s 18th president is until February 2018.
By suggesting a reduced presidential term and not resignation, Park seems to be calling for a revision to the Constitution, which currently states a single presidential term as five years. Talks on altering this system to a four-year double-term have been ongoing within political circles, to promote continuity in state affairs.
Park bows as she finishes her address. (Yonhap)
The presidential address, which came with little advance notice, was the third of its kind since the extensive influence-peddling scandal revolving around her confidante Choi Soon-sil broke out in late October.
In her last two speeches, Park apologized for causing public discontent but neither admitted her intentional involvement nor offered to step down from power.
Park’s statement Tuesday came amid escalating political moves for her impeachment, just days ahead of the parliament’s anticipated vote on a presidential impeachment bill which may legally force Park out of her elected post.
It also followed growing calls for her resignation from the public and opposition circles, as reflected by the record-breaking nationwide candlelight rally held over the weekend, an event said to have gathered over 1.9 million participants demanding Park’s ouster.
“I have now laid down everything,” the president said. “All I hope for is for the Republic of Korea to break away from this confusion and get back on track.”
Though she passed on the decision to the legislature, Park was seen as leaning toward the concept of an “orderly withdrawal,“ which suggests that the president should first confirm her renunciation of power, establish an interim administration and then prepare to step down.
Earlier suggested by opposition parties and later fielded by a number of ruling party members as well, this was considered a valid alternative to the president’s immediate ouster, which is likely to cause chaos in state affairs.
It was also deemed the only way for the beleaguered president to gesture at voluntary resignation, amid the ever-growing public calls for her withdrawal and the prosecution’s ongoing investigation.
With such considerations, the ruling Saenuri Party’s leading figures considered to be loyalists to Park had asked Monday that the president bow out “for the sake of the country and herself.”
Also, on Tuesday morning, shortly before Cheong Wa Dae confirmed the urgent presidential address, the party’s first-termers -- most of them classified as pro-Park members -- announced that Park should choose to “resign in an orderly manner.”
Despite such voices from the pro-Park cluster, not to mention the vow by other political figures to participate in the opposition-led impeachment, the Blue House continued its silence, only claiming to be “all ears to all opinions.”
Park says she will ask parliament to decide on cutting down her term in office. (Yonhap)
But this moderate tone, clearly differentiated from its stern denial so far, triggered speculations that the president was weighing the “advice” of her loyalists.
Throughout the snowballing allegations that she was actively involved behind Choi’s corruption, Park has expressed disapproval -- though not explicitly -- over the escalating calls for her resignation.
When the special probe team listed her as accomplice in her aides’ irregularities, the Blue House vowed to stop all cooperation with the prosecution, alluding that Park would rather face an independent counsel or even impeachment.
“We would rather settle these disputes through a legitimate procedure which may clearly discern the president’s liability,” said Park’s spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk on Nov. 20.
The spokesman also said repeatedly that “there is yet nothing for the president to decide” as the related investigation is under way, implying that none of Park’s allegations have been proven.
In her address, Park reiterated her “innocence” in the series of corruption and influence-peddling charges involving not only Choi but a number of former ranking presidential officials.
“Ever since I started politics back in 1998, up to this very moment as president, I have made every effort for the sake of the nation and of the people,” she said.
“Not for a moment have I promoted my own personal interests but only worked for what I believed to be public businesses for the state.”
She only admitted to having “failed to properly manage” those around her, vowing to offer further explanations on the Choi scandal soon in a separate address. Once again, she withdrew after her speech, without taking questions from the press.
By Bae Hyun-jung(firstname.lastname@example.org