Early election becoming reality

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : Nov 29, 2016 - 17:19
  • Updated : Nov 29, 2016 - 18:06

In the wake of President Park Geun-hye’s offer of a power transition, rival parties are forecast to spur debate over what is poised to be an early presidential election next year.

The disgraced leader expressed her willingness Tuesday to give up the presidency, due to end in February 2018, if the National Assembly secures a “stable pathway” for its handover.

At the heart of the discussions are the time frame of Park’s dismissal and the vote, as well as whether to let Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn take over reign or appoint someone else in that position.

As a way out, the ruling Saenuri Party has floated afresh an amendment to the Constitution to be carried out in tandem with the ongoing impeachment campaign. 

Leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, including Chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, watch TV as President Park Geun-hye makes her third national address on the corruption scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil. (Yonhap)

Floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk said the amendment could result in reducing Park’s term by seven to eight months while sating ever-growing demands to decentralize power away from the president.

“Once complete, the constitutional amendment would make possible the president’s orderly, early resignation,” Chung told reporters after Park’s news conference. “We have to wrap up the lackluster debate on the constitutional amendment and move to the next stage.”

He also reiterated calls for talks on the formation of a neutral Cabinet as a follow-up step to the impeachment vote. Some leading opposition politicians, including main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairwoman Rep. Choo Mi-ae, argue Hwang should not be made acting president and should also take responsibility for his failure to advise the president in the run-up to the Choi Soon-sil scandal.

“If the impeachment motion is passed under the current circumstances, the prime minister will take over the job and then questions may arise as to whether his leadership would live up to the people’s will,” Chung said.

“To minimize the administrative impasse, I will negotiate with the opposition on the issue of the creation of a neutral Cabinet.”

But the opposition camp has rebuffed the idea, calling it an attempt to divert attention ahead of a looming vote on the impeachment motion. Some Saenuri members, such as Reps. Na Kyung-won and Ha Tae-keung, also warned the party leadership against distracting the discussions.

“Now is not the time to talk about a constitutional amendment, but to concentrate on unseating the president,” the party’s former chair and leading presidential contender Moon Jae-in said in an interview with JTBC late Monday.

“Whether it be an impeachment or the president’s resignation, an early presidential election is unavoidable, and what matters is when,” he said ahead of Park’s news conference Tuesday.

Rep, Park Jie-won, interim chief and floor leader of the minor opposition People’s Party, also urged Saenuri lawmakers to focus on the impeachment initiative, which he said is the “right way to uphold the citizens’ will.”

As part of efforts to prepare for uncertainties, the two opposition parties held a seminar Monday to explore ways to better steer a post-impeachment administration.

Many participants have raised concerns about the lack of clear documents on the role of the acting president, including whether it includes personnel appointment power, which may lead to an administrative vacuum.

“There are no specific rules on the authority and status of the acting president due to past imperfect lawmaking,” co-host Democratic Party Rep. Min Byung-doo said during the event, raising the need to enact related legislation.

Among the hotly debated topics was whether the acting president would be able to appoint the successors to two constitutional justices who are slated to finish their terms in January and March.

Once the Assembly approves the impeachment motion, the Constitutional Court is required to deliberate on it within 180 days of the submission. 

Another co-host, People’s Party Rep. Kim Kwan-young, said the acting president should be given authority to name new judges, given the responsibility for state affairs and urgency of the issue.

By Shin Hyon-hee  (