President Park to Spend 4th Inauguration Anniversary Worrying about Impeachment?
SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye is set to mark the fourth anniversary of her inauguration on a gloomy note this weekend amid speculations that she could become South Korea's first impeached leader to step down before the end of the five-year term.
The anniversary falls on Saturday as the Constitutional Court's trial on Park's impeachment over a corruption scandal involving herself and her friend is heading into the homestretch with its ruling expected to be handed down next month.
If the court upholds the parliamentary impeachment resolution passed in December, the country will hold its first-ever presidential by-election within 60 days. Should it decide to reinstate her, the election will be held in December as originally scheduled.
This weekend's anniversary is likely to mark a sharp contrast from the 2014 edition where a confident Park unveiled an ambitious three-year economic innovation plan and her intentions to build better ties with Pyongyang -- her legacy projects hamstrung by the political scandal.
Further darkening the mood at the presidential office are political parties' raucous preparations for an early presidential poll, coupled with burgeoning rumors that Park may voluntarily resign before the court's ruling to avoid being ousted through a legal process.'
"Political circles appear to be spreading rumors about her possible resignation and making them a fait accompli," an aide to Park told Yonhap News Agency over the phone, declining to be named. "Though (Park is) in a difficult situation, (she) will do her best until the end."
This weekend, Park may have little time to reflect on the meaning of her past four years in office as she faces a tricky decision over whether to appear at the court to make her case in person.
The court has told Park's attorneys to notify it by Sunday of whether Park will testify. It has set Monday as the date for closing arguments, which will be followed by the justices' closed-door deliberations, a process expected to take some two weeks.
Some of her aides believe her oral argument to deny a string of corruption charges -- cited in the impeachment resolution -- could influence the court's judgment in her favor and help placate negative public sentiment.
However, some others still argued that the president must stay away from the messy process of appearing in court and touching on the allegations of wrongdoings, which she has called a "colossal mountain of preposterous lies."
Park has been suspected of allowing her friend Choi Soon-sil to meddle in important state affairs and extort money and favors from local conglomerates such as Samsung Group. Both have flatly denied the allegations.
Park initially wanted to rebut her charges at an interview with special prosecutors looking into the scandal on Dec. 9. But the plan was scuttled after her aides accused the investigators of leaking the schedule.
Observers say the probe team might not be able to question her with its initial investigation term set to end next Tuesday. The probe mandate can be extended by a month with consent from Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, but it is unclear whether Hwang will agree to the extension.
"As her attendance at the court will be virtually her last card, President Park will make a prudent decision in consideration of various variables," Park's aide said.