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Top Park aides offer to resign

By Shin Hyon-hee

Published : March 13, 2017 - 18:32

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Former President Park Geun-hye’s top secretaries tendered resignations en masse Monday, one day after she departed the presidential office in disgrace in line with a court decision to expel her over a corruption scandal. 

The offer was made by Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok, senior political affairs secretary Hur Won-je and eight others in charge of civil, personal, economic, press, foreign and security, future strategy, educational and cultural, and labor and welfare affairs. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will decide on their fate.
 
Presidential Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok (L) and senior political affairs secretary Hur Won-je (Yonhap) Presidential Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok (L) and senior political affairs secretary Hur Won-je (Yonhap)

There are 10 vice-ministerial senior secretary posts within Cheong Wa Dae. Former policy coordination secretary An Chong-bum has already been arrested for his alleged roles in the Choi Soon-sil scandal.

The move was seen as a sign for the officials to take responsibility for their failure to assist their boss in the run up to the scandal. Park returned to her private residence in southern Seoul late Sunday following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in favor of her impeachment Friday.

With a deepening leadership vacuum and social strife, Hwang will take “careful consideration” over their resignations, officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said.

While Han and Hur are likely to see their terms end given the nature of their duties, the secretaries on foreign policy and security as well as the economy may be allowed to stay to help deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, China’s economic retaliation over the THAAD missile shield program and other pressing challenges at hand.

Hwang would also take into account the need for handover preparations, as under the law the next government will be inaugurated in less than two months without a regular transition committee.

The premier is expected to announce this week the presidential election date, which will likely fall on May 9. With the March 10 verdict, the government is required to set the date within 10 days, and the Interior Ministry is currently carrying out related work together with the National Election Commission.

In light of the urgency, Hwang is considering unveiling the date by convening an extra Cabinet meeting instead of the regular Tuesday session, PMO officials said.

Speculation persists the acting president might run for the top job himself as the flag-bearer of the Liberty Korea Party. He has been meeting with elder and incumbent politicians, in part due to his current duty, and witnessed a steady increase to 10 percent in public support according to polls, although the figures dropped slightly in the wake of Park’s impeachment.

But the mainstream view is leaning against his run, which could backfire given his pressing tasks of stable management of state affairs and the upcoming election. To vie for the presidency, Hwang also must step down a month before polls open.

Meanwhile, controversy is growing over whether Hwang is entitled to designate confidential presidential records in the aftermath of Park’s impeachment.

The Presidential Archives within the National Archives of Korea said Monday it has begun preparations for the documents’ transfer, saying the acting president has the right to pick what to move.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk also told reporters later in the day the office is working on the files’ classification for a report to Hwang.

But opposition lawmakers argue the acting president should refrain from exercising the authority, warning against any attempt to block the prosecution’s access to what could be vital evidence for its ongoing probe into the scandal.

Hwang has already taken flak for denying an independent counsel’s request for a raid on Cheong Wa Dae and for an extension of its investigation period.

Rep. Kang Byung-won of the main opposition Democratic Party has proposed a bill governing the handling of presidential records in the impeachment-driven absence of the commander-in-chief.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)