[Newsmaker] Speculation grows over Hwang’s presidential bid

By Korea Herald

Opposition raises tension on Hwang’s possible bid in presidential race, but skepticism grows on his actions amid worsening public sentiment

  • Published : Mar 14, 2017 - 18:34
  • Updated : Mar 15, 2017 - 11:01
After the fall of President Park Geun-hye, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is in the spotlight as her cover and possible successor. The problem is he can’t be both for long, as this country has only 55 days to prepare for the presidential election and to stand in the race, he has to resign from office.

Perhaps a hint at the state of his mind not yet made up, Hwang on Tuesday delayed a decision on the timetable for the election, although May 9 has been highlighted as a possible date.
Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (center) walks to attend a Cabinet meeting in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

He also chose to stick with the status quo for the time being, turning down resignations of former President Park’s chief of staff Han Gwang-ok, National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and nine senior secretaries.

“(The dismissal of their resignations) is to ensure that no vacuum occurs in state affairs and to resolve urgent pending issues, considering the grave national security and economic situations,” an official quoted Hwang as saying.

Some observers claimed that he needed the Cheong Wa Dae staff to remain in their positions in case he steps down and runs for the presidential election. Others took it as a gesture that Hwang would choose to focus on his current role in state affairs.

However, the acting president’s message implied that key state officials should keep to their respective roles while the country faces challenges including North Korea’s persisting military threats and China’s economic retaliation over the deployment of an advanced US missile defense system here.

Hwang has also continued to sidestep the question on whether he would run in the upcoming presidential election.

At a Cabinet meeting earlier in the morning, Hwang also called on the Interior Ministry and other government departments for their best efforts in preparing for a “fair and smooth” election process.

“Only 55 days remain to the deadline for holding the 19th presidential election,” he said.

According to the Public Servant Election Act, a presidential election is to be held within 60 days, if a vacancy in the state leader post occurs.

But the prime minister has not designated a final date for the political event, which is largely anticipated to take place on May 9. A provisional Cabinet meeting is likely to be held within the week to discuss the issue, according to officials of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The opposition immediately took Hwang’s inaction as a sign of his last-minute consideration on whether to challenge the nation’s presidency.

“It is absurd for Hwang to delay the election date confirmation due to his undecidedness over his own presidential bid,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, said at a party meeting.

“If he wishes to avoid misunderstanding and blame, he should make moves to confirm the election schedule as soon as possible.”

Party spokesperson Rep. Park Kyung-mee also warned Hwang “not to be carried away” by his temporary presidential role, claiming that the majority of the public sees him as accomplice to the wrongdoings of the former Park administration.

“The (public sentiment of the) candle rallies effectively dismissed him, too, along with former President Park, as he was a faithful assistant to the state affairs meddling scandal,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader of the opposition People’s Party, predicted that Hwang would not enter the election race.

“Hwang is not the kind of man to risk his own political career by running as the Liberty Korea Party’s candidate,” Park said in a radio interview with PBC.

While Hwang has so far remained ambiguous over his candidacy, neither consenting nor denying, the conservative Liberty Korea Party continued its efforts to embrace Hwang as their runner.

The party recently fixed the rules for its primary to select a final presidential candidate, allowing additional candidates to register themselves midway, before the final public survey deadline. This special rule, which would allow Hwang to join in the race at a later stage, triggered backlash from the party’s minority presidential aspirants.

According to a survey conducted by Korea Research over the weekend following Park’s impeachment ruling, Hwang’s support rating stood at 9.1 percent, down 2.1 percentage points from a previous poll.

But despite the polls and doubts of the opposition, speculations also grew that Hwang, pressed by Park’s ouster and the conservative party’s fall, would not make a bid in the race.

“It is possible that former President Park and the pro-Park faction are pressing Hwang to run in the race and that (the reluctant) Hwang is waiting for public opinion to worsen further so as to justify his renunciation,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a professor at Myongji University.

By Bae Hyun-jung (