Thursday, November 3, 2016

President Park Geun-hye Should Resign

The more details about the Choi Soon-sil scandal are revealed, the more bizarre the story seems to get. From stories of shamanistic priests to corporate malfeasance to unlawfully accessing classified information to prosecutorial ineptitude to familial favoritism to allegations about sacrificial rituals during the Sewol ferry disaster to questions about whether Choi had used the Blue House as a sleepover camp, one can’t help but be reminded of Mark Twain’s quote about how the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Like The Korean said in his blog post, the scandal has put the entire corporate-government symbiotic relationship into the Tyson Zone where every allegation and rumor, no matter how insane, now seems entirely plausible.

It is important to point out that there has yet to be a trial, much less a conviction. Until that takes place, every allegation is just that - an allegation. However, there is absolutely no doubt that as a direct result of this scandal and the eye roll-inducing manner in which she has attempted to contain it, it would be a gross understatement to claim that President Park is now a lame duck president.

In fact, this goes well beyond a lame duck presidency. Due to the far-reaching influence that Choi Soon-sil seems to have had over the president, government ministries, and various corporations, it may be safe to say that the Park administration has fundamentally collapsed.

I doubt this is what James & Bobby Purify had in mind
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(As of this writing, Kim Byong-joon, whom President Park has nominated to become the next prime minister, is currently giving a press conference stating that President Park has agreed that, upon confirmation to his post, Kim would take over all domestic affairs while President Park will only oversee foreign policy. He has also said that it may be possible for prosecutors to investigate President Park, albeit “prudently.” However, it is still unclear if the opposition parties will agree to President Park’s unilateral appointment.)

Considering the fact that South Korea currently faces wave after wave of economic and security challenges, this scandal could not have come at a worse time.

Samsung Electronics, which had to cancel its Galaxy Note 7, is currently on shaky ground, which in turn has led to increased calls for the government to push through corporate reform. Korea’s largest container shipping company, Hanjin, went into receivership a few months ago and the company still has stranded crew members out at sea who are running out of rations. Falling exports, rising household debt, and a looming interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve could seriously threaten economic growth. The government still needs to curb the chaebols’ excesses, push for more deregulation and a more flexible labor market, and help to boost startup businesses. More urgently, the National Assembly still needs to approve the government’s ₩400.7 trillion budget for next year.

On the security side of things, sensing an opportunity, China is once again looking for ways to force South Korea to abandon its plans to deploy THAAD missile batteries. North Korea still poses an existential threat to South Korea. In order to properly combat the North Korean menace, South Korea needs to pursue careful diplomacy, strong sanctions, and meticulous alliance management. Although the Obama administration has said that the ROK-US alliance is still “strong and durable,” there is no doubt concern about South Korea’s current state of political paralysis. Furthermore, US officials are all too aware that support for the alliance and/or the US’ interests are not unanimous in South Korea.

The duties and responsibilities that weigh on the president’s shoulders require Herculean leadership. It is needed even during the best of times and it is absolutely paramount during times of trouble. But the Choi Soon-sil scandal has derailed everything.

As it is now apparent that President Park can no longer lead the country or regain the trust of those whom she is supposed to govern, it is now abundantly clear that she ought to resign.

The fact that the majority of Saenuri and Minjoo lawmakers have thus far refused to call for her resignation shows that even now they are placing their own interests above that of the country’s. They have refused to do so because if President Park resigns immediately, as per the Republic of Korea Constitution, a new election has to take place in sixty days whereby a new president would be able to begin a new five-year term.

Seeing how the scandal has not only tarnished President Park’s reputation but also that of the Saenuri Party itself, it is clear why Saenuri lawmakers would be opposed to a sudden resignation. They would have the most to lose. Furthermore, the Saenuri Party’s most likely nominee, Ban Ki-moon, would be ineligible to run as he is still serving as the UN’s Secretary General.

(Assuming that Ban Ki-moon still plans to run for president and he doesn’t choose to be another party’s standard bearer, he may need to rename the Saenuri Party, again, and purge the party off Park Geun-hye’s most loyal supporters.)

The same goes for the Minjoo Party. Prior to the Choi Soon-sil scandal, it appeared that it was the Minjoo Party that would be engulfed in flames when former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon mentioned in his memoir, A Glacier Inevitably Moves, that Moon Jae-in had given the green light in 2007 to ask Pyongyang for its opinion on the UN resolution on North Korean human rights violations, a charge that Moon has yet to deny.

(Personally, I think this ought to disqualify Moon Jae-in from being elected dog catcher, much less president.)

The Minjoo Party may be enjoying higher approval ratings than the Saenuri Party, but that’s not saying very much. Should the presidential election take place today, there is no guarantee that Moon would be elected president. Until recently, Moon was operating under the assumption that he would have more than a year to campaign for the presidency. It is likely that he would rather not deviate from the plan.

The two major political figures who are openly calling for President Park’s resignation, Ahn Cheol-soo and Park Won-soon, were facing steep uphill battles of their own against Moon Jae-in to become the progressives’ nominee for president. But if President Park resigns, seeing how Moon is facing his own political scandal, they would have a much better chance of sealing the nomination for themselves. Although they are both right to demand President Park’s immediate resignation, their naked ambition and lust for power are not very subtle.

The show must go on!
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Readers of this blog already know my biases. Although President Park has shown herself to be an unremarkable, underwhelming, and disappointing leader in more ways than one, I have felt nothing but unadulterated admiration for her hawkish policy toward North Korea and her dogged pursuance of free trade deals with as many countries and trading blocs as possible. Conversely, I find many of South Korea’s progressives’ willingness to appease Pyongyang and their slavish devotion to unions and (even more than conservatives’) nativist outlook on trade despicable.

Should President Park resign immediately, there is a very good chance that I would find the next president’s views on trade, tax policy, welfare reform, labor reform, economic regulation, and foreign policy deplorable and downright dangerous for the country’s future. But the fact remains that through no one else’s fault other than her own, President Park has lost the trust of the people and turned her administration into an international laughing stock. You know you’re a joke when North Korea pokes fun at you. Irony truly is dead and President Park’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon.

South Korea survived ten years of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. It survived Lee Myung-bak and it has thus far survived Park Geun-hye and it will survive the next fifteen months should she choose not to step down. South Korea will also survive the next president whoever he or she may be.

But whether or not South Korea will be able to survive the long-term consequences of her refusal to step down is less clear.

If President Park refuses to step down, she will also bring the Saenuri Party down with her. For all of its faults, and they are legion, a Saenuri collapse could lead effectively to a one-party state and God knows that far too many progressive politicians appear to live in a world that is very remote from reality - full of fantasy and whimsy. Despite its many flaws, for a healthy and vibrant republic to exist, there has to be at least two opposing political parties.

For the sake of the country’s future, President Park should resign.

Go. Definitely go.
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