Park to ‘contemplate’ demand for gov’t overhaul amid scandal

October 26, 2016

SEOUL, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) — President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday she will “contemplate” the ruling party’s call for an overhaul of people in her administration amid the allegations that a close confidante interfered in state affairs.

During her phone call with the ruling Saenuri Party’s chief Lee Jung-hyun, Park said she understands the seriousness of the issue, adding she will also look deeper into the request made by the party.

Political pundits said Park’s remark indicates the presidential office will seek a personnel reshuffle in the near future to surmount the developing uproar.

The country’s ruling and opposition parties have been urging Park to take sincere steps to settle the scandal, while demanding an appointment of a special prosecutor to look deeper into the case.

On Wednesday, Saenuri and the main opposition Democratic Party independently agreed to call for the appointment.

Saenuri floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk proposed, after his party reached a consensus on the matter, that all parties immediately come together to begin discussions.

“The presidential office must order related authorities to bring Choi Soon-sil back to South Korea,” Chung said during an emergency meeting. “We will take all necessary measures to punish those related and find details of Choi’s involvement in state affairs.”

The remark came after local reports revealed Choi had received and edited dozens of presidential speeches before they were made public, as well as other confidential documents, despite holding no official post in the Park administration. Broadcaster JTBC found the speeches on a computer that was thrown away by Choi’s office in southern Seoul.

This screen capture from cable channel TV Chosun on Oct. 25, 2016, shows Choi Soon-sil (C), the woman tied closely to President Park Geun-hye and suspected of wide influence peddling. Park admitted that she at one time sought Choi's personal opinions.

This screen capture from cable channel TV Chosun on Oct. 25, 2016, shows Choi Soon-sil (C), the woman tied closely to President Park Geun-hye and suspected of wide influence peddling. Park admitted that she at one time sought Choi’s personal opinions.

Choi is the fifth daughter of Park’s late mentor Choi Tae-min, who died in 1994. Observers said Park built a friendship with the Choi family after her mother and then-first lady Yook Young-soo was assassinated in 1974.

On Tuesday, Park admitted that Choi Soon-sil “offered me personal comments” on her speeches and campaigns, adding that the woman in question had provided her with help when she was going through hard times. After the death of her mother, Park’s father, former President Park Chung-hee, was killed by his own spy chief in 1979.

“Clearly, this is not an issue that can be settled with an apology from the president,” said Rep. Kim Moo-sung, Saenuri’s former head. He demanded that Choi, who is currently presumed to be staying in Germany, be brought back home for questioning.

While opposition lawmakers even asked the foreign ministry to suspend Choi’s passport to force her to return home, Foreign Minster Yun Byung-se said during a parliamentary session that it has not yet received any request from the relevant authorities.

Since the news broke earlier in the week, the political discourse has been engulfed by the scandal.

Even ruling party lawmakers have been expressing deep concerns over the allegations being raised, with some Saenuri members demanding Park give up her party membership.

During her interview with SBS Radio, Rep. Na Kyung-won of Saenuri said Park has no choice but to leave the party, adding other top staff members of the presidential office should resign as well.

Rep. Kim Young-tae of Saenuri echoed the view, adding there must be a thorough investigation on the matter, and that having Park linked to Saenuri will emerge as a heavy burden on the party going forward.

The opposition bloc also claimed there is a need to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal.

“South Korea’s Constitution stipulates the country has only one president. But it turns out that two presidents lead the nation,” said Rep. Choo Mi-ae, the head of the main opposition Democratic Party, claiming Choi virtually acted as another president.

“Testimonies show Choi received presidential reports from Cheong Wa Dae regularly. Other reports show that Choi heads a secretive organization and influences state affairs as well as the business community,” Choo argued.

“If the allegations continue to rise and stay unattended, the public outcry will be directed towards the president. We urge Park to have a deep self-reflection and make a prompt decision,” the lawmaker added.

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the main opposition’s floor leader, added that although the president cannot be prosecuted, it does not mean that she is immune from the obligation to reveal the truth.

Some in the opposition demanded the resignation of the Cabinet over the incident.

The party, however, said it will take a wait-and-see stance on the on-going investigation of the Mir Foundation and the K-Sports Foundation amid the allegations that the foundations’ money was funneled to Choi.

“Park must replace secretaries and there must be a special prosecution. If there are any violations of the law, the president cannot be exempted from punishment,” Choo said.

The opposition bloc refrained from making aggressive approaches such as demanding Park’s impeachment, as a hurried move may lead to political backlash.

“The impeachment should be demanded by the people, not opposition parties,” an official from the main opposition said. “Even if there is an impeachment, there will be confusion among the people following the vacancy (of the country’s top post).”

The official added the party will instead focus on finding effective ways to find out the truth.

Some lawmakers of Saenuri, on the other hand, expressed concerns over the possible secession of Park, adding Saenuri also cannot avoid criticism.

“Asking Park to leave the party is a mere act of evading responsibility,” said Rep. Choung Byoung-guk of Saenuri during an interview with PBC Radio, adding the ruling party should also focus efforts on mending the situation.

Since 1987, former President Lee Myung-bak has been the only head of the country to maintain his party affiliation throughout his term. The other presidents withdrew from their respective parties due to their involvement in corruption and other strife within the parties.

Moon Jae-in, the former head of the Democratic Party who lost in the 2012 presidential race against Park, also urged the president to leave the party and establish a neutral Cabinet.

“Park should name an upright figure that can be trusted by the people as the new prime minister, and let him take control of state affairs,” Moon said.

“Park must make a sincere apology to the people, seek forgiveness and punish those responsible,” he added.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Wednesday he will not cling to his position when asked for a resignation during a parliamentary session.

“We apologize for causing concern, uneasiness, and anxiety to the people. Myself, as well as other Cabinet members, are not attached to their positions,” Hwang said.