Will President Park survive the scandal?: The Korea Herald

In its editorial on Nov 10, the paper calls on authorities to prepare contingency plans.

Demonstrators hold placards calling for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun Hye in Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul on Nov 5, 2016.
Demonstrators hold placards calling for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun Hye in Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul on Nov 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The Park Geun Hye scandal will face a watershed moment this week, which could provide a clearer indication on the fate of the president. 

This Friday (Nov 11), a group of opposition lawmakers will hold an extraordinary interpellation session on the administration over Park’s confidante Choi Soon Sil meddling into state affairs. 

On Saturday, rallies by angry citizens across the nation are scheduled to convene in front of Cheong Wa Dae and in major cities.

These events are drawing wide public interest, as Park has yet to clarify her stance on calls from most citizens to step down from her post. 

During the coming interpellation session, 12 opposition lawmakers, including eight from the Democratic Party of Korea, are to grill Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn and other ministers.

There is a possibility that fresh allegations might emerge, such as some ministries glossing over Choi’s influence on Park. So the Cabinet, which comprises some pro-Park senior officials, may be pressured to carry out a full-scale reshuffle. 

Meanwhile, the ruling Saenuri Party faces a crisis – to the extent it may even break up  as its approval ratings have taken a nosedive. 

The politicians’ interrogations could possibly involve the Foreign Ministry’s deal with Japan on wartime sex slavery, state-authored Korean history textbooks and the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here. 

The culture and sports sectors will also likely be severely denounced due to Choi and other individuals’ alleged meddling in bidding for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and a variety of irregularities in state-led culture promotion activities. 

Ministries have already come under fire for Ewha Womans University and an equestrian association’s favours to Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo Ra.

Another issue will be whether ministers knew about the influence of non-government power – including Choi  or at least had suspicions about them.

Some Saenuri lawmakers have come under criticism for striving to evade responsibility by allegedly turning a blind eye to Choi’s meddling. 

Civic groups said that this weekend’s rally in downtown Seoul will be larger than the previous two. 

Demonstrators are seeking to march from Gwanghwamun square to the streets near the presidential office to demand her resignation. 

The series of rallies may soon develop into a full-fledged uprising of citizens. 

The majority of citizens do not seem to welcome Park’s push for a political breakthrough such as accepting a Prime Minister recommended by the National Assembly. 

They also do not appear interested in watching her make another televised apology. 

However, the parliamentary opposition should refrain from spreading groundless rumors during the interpellation session, and the rally should be conducted with no violence by averting needless physical conflicts with police. 

Meanwhile, there is something else the Assembly, law enforcement agencies and other authorities should keep in mind.

Park has not showed willingness to resign in her two apologies. She has also not addressed whether she will continue with the rest of her tenure until February 2018. 

The possibility of her abruptly quitting -- or other choice, if any -- cannot be ruled out amid the unpredictable situation. To avert a heavier indignity of impeachment, she may determine her position in the coming weeks.

As a pre-emptive measure, core agencies should map out contingency plans against a deterioration of social woes and an administrative vacuum crisis, if she departs from office.

The Assembly and police will play a significant role in maintaining political and social security in if such a scenario unfolds. The military should also have a high level of readiness. 

The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.