Will President Park survive the political scandal? The Korea Herald

Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun Hye (right) and her confidante Choi Soon Sil (left) at a rally in Seoul on Oct 27, 2016.
Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun Hye (right) and her confidante Choi Soon Sil (left) at a rally in Seoul on Oct 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Oct 28, The Korea Herald urges the President to take several steps to defuse the crisis

All the recent presidents here encountered difficulties in the final phase of their presidencies due to wrongdoings committed by their relatives, aides and associates. Some of them went to jail on charges of exploiting their close relationships with the president and engaging in corruption or influence-peddling.

President Park Geun Hye has fallen into crisis due to the snowballing scandal that centres on her long-time associate Choi Soon Sil.

For all the similarities, there is one big difference between the Choi case and past ones: Ms Park herself committed personal misdeeds, whereas past presidents were not directly involved in wrongdoings.

As media outlets dug up one piece of evidence after another, Ms Park admitted on Tuesday (Oct 25) that she sent drafts of major addresses to Ms Choi for editing. The president said she also sought Ms Choi's advice regarding speeches, public relations activities and feedback from the public.

 

But what Ms Park did not mention was that the plethora of speech texts and documents - found on computers abandoned by Ms Choi - included those related to appointments of senior administration officials, real estate development plans and confidential national security issues such as military talks with North Korea.

In short, Ms Park herself divulged and leaked information, possibly in violation of laws and regulations on presidential materials. This alone separates her from her predecessors who had to bear moral - but not legal - responsibility for misdeeds committed by people close to them.

Granted, every leader needs advice including on what to wear, who to appoint and how to deal with North Korea. This is why we have the Blue House aides and Cabinet ministers.

But a woman who does not have any official title became involved - under the patronage of the president - in many presidential affairs that should have been off-limits to private citizens.

This is why the Choi scandal is graver than the influence-peddling cases that have haunted the Korean presidency in the past and why the harshest critics' call for impeachment or voluntary resignation are not totally ungrounded.

Yet, it is premature to mention things that would undoubtedly create a power vacuum, which this nation cannot afford in view of the host of challenges, including the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea and the staggering economy.

This does not mean that Ms Park will be able to keep the crisis from worsening without taking any action. One of the first steps should be the appointment of an independent counsel to probe the Choi scandal.

State prosecutors raided the homes and offices of Ms Choi and other people implicated in the case on Wednesday, one day after Ms Park offered a public apology for getting assistance from Ms Choi.

But an investigation conducted by the state prosecutors, whose chief is appointed by the president, will inevitably have limitations in delving into a case involving the president and members of her inner circle.

Ms Park should appoint an independent counsel and then declare that she will allow herself to be subject to investigation.

Under the Constitution, a president cannot be charged with a criminal offence during his or her term of office except for insurrection or treason. This should not, however, free Ms Park from her obligation to tell the truth about what happened between her and Ms Choi.

Ms Park should also immediately sack all those who acted as liaisons between her and Ms Choi so that they can undergo investigation while out of government service. Needless to say, a sweeping reshuffle of the Blue House and the Cabinet must follow.

These are some of the things Ms Park can do to keep the crisis from getting out of control. The sad thing is that the scandal has inflicted so much damage on Ms Park that whatever she does, she will remain a feeble lame duck for the rest of her time in office. That certainly is a misfortune to the country.