Political Stalemate between President Park, Opposition Parties Solidified
SEOUL, Nov. 16 (Yonhap) -- A political standoff between President Park Geun-hye and opposition parties escalated Wednesday as the beleaguered leader effectively rejected mounting calls to step down over a corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving her confidante.
Signaling Park's determination to salvage her presidency, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae made it clear that any decision to renounce her presidential authority and cut short her five-year term in office would conflict with the Constitution.
Opposition parties, however, pushed for a nationwide campaign to unseat Park, pressuring her to bow out in an "orderly" manner. They demanded Park cede all of her presidential authority to a nonpartisan Cabinet and resign to pave the way for an early presidential election.
Park, whose term ends in February 2018, has been under fire for her alleged link to the scandal implicating Choi Soon-sil. Choi is suspected of having abused her decades-long ties to Park to meddle in important state affairs and even influence government appointments.
"What is most crucial is to ensure that there will not be any government vacuum," Han Gwang-ok, presidential chief of staff, said during a meeting of senior presidential secretaries.'
"Any procedure or decision that contravenes the Constitution is impossible," he added, hinting that the president will not succumb to the opposition bloc's demand to resign.
Another presidential official also stressed that the president would not renounce her authority enshrined in the Constitution.
"Our stance remains unchanged. Within the boundary of the law, the president will delegate (part of) her authority to a new prime minister, and will do her utmost to clear up all suspicions in regards to the scandal," the official said, declining to be identified.
As a way to defuse the political crisis facing her, Park has offered to appoint a parliament-picked premier to take "effectual control" of the Cabinet. The president also indicated that she would allow the premier to take charge of domestic affairs, while she would handle security and foreign affairs as the commander-in-chief.
Doubling down on its demand for Park's resignation, the main opposition Democratic Party set up a team to lead a nationwide campaign to oust the president.
"Our regional chapters in cities and provinces across the nation will be at the center of the movement to oust the president," Choo Mi-ae, the party leader, said during a ceremony to mark the launch of the team.'
"This would mark the beginning of a movement to retrieve the constitutional authority citizens handed over to the president who herself has destroyed the constitutional order," she added.
The minor opposition People's Party also ramped up calls for Park to step aside.
"President Park must not complete her term of office," Ahn Cheol-soo, former co-chair of the party, said during a press conference. "(Park) must retreat now (from her presidency)."
Opposition parties, however, appeared reluctant to raise the idea of Park's impeachment, a time-consuming process that could further cripple state affairs and cause a political backlash against them.
The passage of an impeachment motion requires approval from two thirds of 300 total lawmakers. Even if it passes, a president can only be stripped of all powers if six of the nine Constitutional Court justices concur that Park committed a crime that makes her unfit to serve. A ruling that absolves the president can trigger a political backlash.
The top court can deliberate on the impeachment proposal for up to six months, during which the prime minister, picked by the president herself, serves as an acting president -- a scenario the opposition bloc may want to avoid.
Concentrating on preparing for an imminent prosecutorial inquiry into the president, Cheong Wa Dae sought this week to actively defend against a slew of allegations media outlets have churned out against Park.
The presidential office called most of the allegations groundless, calling for media "prudence."
It also denied the allegations that one of Park's close associates was involved in a separate corruption scandal surrounding the construction of a 101-story building in the southern port city of Busan.
With opposition parties seeking to enact an independent counsel probe into the political scandal involving Park's friend Choi, the presidential office is turning its attention to how to work with the special prosecutors office.
Cheong Wa Dae insiders believe it makes more sense to focus on the investigation that will be launched by a independent counsel recommended by the opposition parties, rather than deal with the ongoing probe that people may not believe even if it finds nothing incriminating against the president.
The National Assembly is expected to pass a bill on the independent counsel probe Thursday, which is expected to be endorsed by the Cabinet on Tuesday next week.
Reflecting on this, the presidential office said that it will accept any special prosecutor recommended by the opposition parties who will be tasked with looking into the case. It also said it is willing to fully cooperate with the investigation so as to get to the bottom of the scandal that has rocked the country for the past few weeks.