President Park Geun-hye late on Friday called for the resignation of her senior secretaries en bloc, apparently giving in to the mounting public censure over an unprecedented political scandal of her confidante allegedly meddling in state affairs.
The urgent action came amid crushing approval ratings, which most of the key surveys showed to have dipped to a critical 10 percent range this week, and also shortly ahead of a massive candlelight rally scheduled in central Seoul to demand for Park’s resignation.
President Park Geun-hye makes her way to offer certificates of appointment to newly-appointed ambassadors on Friday afternoon, hours before calling for the mass resignation of her senior secretaries. Yonhap
In a text message sent to the press late on Friday night, presidential spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk announced that the president ordered her senior staff to submit their resignation and that a reshuffle of the presidential office will take place shortly.
The resignation en masse would include Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Won-jong, Senior Secretary for Policy Coordination An Chong-bum and Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Woo Byung-woo.
An and Woo have maintained their posts all along, despite their frequent involvement in the queue of corruption disputes which finally traced back to Choi Soon-sil, whose extensive political influence-rigging has recently been revealed.
Speculations had built up earlier on Friday as Park suddenly cancelled a pre-set luncheon with members of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation. She met instead with Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party and one of her closest political aides, to discuss the course of action.
Floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk, too, met with the president in a separate session in which he vowed for the mass resignation of the party’s leadership, unless Cheong Wa Dae takes gestures of “sweeping reform.”
But no tangible actions were taken during the day, while the spokesperson and the senior secretary for public affairs merely said that the president was “contemplating” various options.
What pushed the embattled state leader to make the last-minute decision is the worst-ever approval ratings as revealed by the recent series of public polls, especially the unseen drop among the stronghold cluster -- voters residing in the conservative-leaning Daegu-North Gyeongsang belt, senior citizens aged 06 or more, and supporters of the ruling Saenuri Party.
A nationwide survey conducted by local pollster Gallop Korea on Tuesday-Thursday this week, only 17 percent of the respondents gave positive appraisal of the president’s state management, down 8 percent from the previous week.
The regional figure for the Daegu-North Gyeongsang region stood at 27 percent, and the per age figure for the 60s and older group crushed to 36 percent, falling below the 50 percent line for the first time since Park’s inauguration.
During the two days following Park’s “apology” to the nation, the given figures were even lower. Only 14 percent of the respondents’ pool thought positively of Park, indicating that the public did not embrace the president’s response to the scandal.
But a mere reshuffle of presidential staff, excluding the direct liability of the president, is not a sufficient solution, the opposition political circles and a number of civic groups continued to claim.
“(The mass resignation order) came four days after the first report broke out on Choi’s state affairs manipulation, which was way too late considering the public’s fury over this unheard-of scandal,” said the party’s chief spokesperson Rep. Youn Kwan-suk through a statement.
Floor spokesperson Rep. Ki Dong-min added that Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn should be replaced to give way to a new Cabinet leadership that may win back the public’s trust.
The Saenuri, while welcoming the president’s “determination,” also called for more radical actions, such as replacing the disputed secretaries who allegedly were involved in delivering confidential state documents to the disputed presidential aide.
Calls grew especially from the so-called non-Park faction that the party should take more preemptive measures to distance itself from the scandal, which is sure to push away supporters ahead of the by-election and the presidential election next year.
“The party should come up with countermeasures, including the possibility of establishing an emergency committee, if only to overcome this unbelievable situation,” said Rep. Choung Byoung-gug.
Meanwhile, a number of civic groups suggested earlier in the week to hold a candlelight rally in Gwanghwamun Square on Saturday evening, calling for the president's additional apology and resignation.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)