With four days remaining to the impeachment showdown, the opposition assumed the offensive on passing the bill against President Park Geun-hye and the ruling camp struggled to divert the likely ouster to the president’s gradual and voluntary resignation.
The key variable, which added momentum to the impeachment action over the weekend, was the shift in stance from nonmainstreamers within the Saenuri Party who do not align themselves with the embattled president -- commonly referred to as the non-Park cluster.
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Monday maintained awkward silence, with spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk skipping out on his regular press briefing in the morning without prior notice.
Though the Blue House did not specify the reason for calling off the daily briefing, the sudden reclusion was largely taken as a sign of distress, following the Saenuri Party’s non-Park members’ gesturing to take part in the opposition-led impeachment bill.
“We once again urge parties to negotiate at their best (on setting the president’s resignation date), but should they fail to do so, we shall participate in the impeachment bill vote on Dec. 9 without reservation,” Rep. Hwang Young-cheul said Sunday, speaking for the nonmainstream Saenuri lawmakers.
As the three opposition parties have made it clear that they will accept nothing less than Park’s forceful ouster by impeachment, this effectively meant that the non-Park group decided to uphold impeachment.
Last Friday, the nonmainstreamers seemed to soften up as they demanded President Park set the date of her resignation by Wednesday, alluding that they would not go as far as the coercive measure of impeaching should Park only gesture at stepping down.
But it was the ever-mounting candlelight rally on Saturday, an event said to have gathered some 2.32 million protesters nationwide, which apparently kindled the sense of crisis that those hesitating over impeachment may eventually fall to pieces along with the outgoing president.
The non-Park group, comprising some 40 lawmakers, is likely to create the necessary quorum to pass the impeachment bill. The number of opposition and liberal-leaning independent lawmakers currently amounts to 172, which is 28 votes short from the two-thirds quorum in the 300-seat Assembly.
The Saenuri Party’s pro-Park leadership, flustered by the nonmainstreamers’ hardened stance, showed moves to let go of its earlier plan to allow the president a self-directed departure.
“Should the impeachment process proceed as planned, all Saenuri lawmakers should participate and cast their vote according to their conscience,” floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk told reporters.
This indicated that the ruling party is willing to overturn its earlier party platform that the president should step down by April next year so as to give way to an earlier-than-expected presidential election in June.
Rep. Chung also added that Chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, a representative presidential loyalist who had adamantly stood against impeachment, agreed to this idea of free voting -- hinting that the leadership is now ready for anything only to stop the impeachment clock.
But while making gestures of embracing impeachment, the ruling party leadership also displayed last-minute struggles on the president stepping down of her own will.
“We demand for Cheong Wa Dae’s immediate response on (the president’s) resignation by April, which we decided on in an unanimous vote last week,” said spokesperson Rep. Kim Sung-won.
Speculations have risen that the president, with few options left, may choose to deliver another address to the nation within the week to accept her home party leadership’s suggestion.
The Saenuri leadership’s continued calls for the president‘s “orderly withdrawal from power” are seen as part of its effort to talk the moderate non-Park members out of impeachment. Among those lawmakers is former party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who claimed impeachment to be unnecessary, should the president confirm her resignation.
But regardless of the response from the Blue House or even the possible change of heart from the Saenuri’s nonmainstreamers, the three opposition parties have vowed to hold their ground and push ahead with the impeachment at all costs.
“I am telling you once and for all, there can be and will be no partisan agreement on (Park’s) resignation by April,” said Rep. Choo Mi-ae, chairperson of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.
The main opposition chief thus pledged to hold emergency party meetings and candlelight rallies on a daily basis up to the parliamentary vote on Friday, so as to consolidate opposition unity on impeachment.
The party‘s floor leader Rep. Woo Sang-ho, while backing up Choo‘s calls, also warned against mounting optimism that the non-Park group’s move will vouch for the impeachment bill passage.
“It is true the non-Parks have turned in favor (of impeachment), but that does not mean that all 40 of them are bound by that decision,” he told reporters, estimating there is a fifty-fifty chance that the impeachment bill would pass the parliamentary floor.
The smaller opposition People‘s Party floor leader Rep. Park Jie-won, who had previously appeared hesitant on impeachment due to the possible lack of quorum, also raised his voice.
“We no longer demand for an orderly withdrawal, but only for impeachment,” he said in a party meeting. “Only by discarding its president may the Republic of Korea survive.”
Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, leader of the progressive minority Justice Party, argued that the people will ultimately dismiss the Assembly as well, should it fail to respond to calls for Park’s ouster.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org