The opponents of South Korea's battered President Park Geun-hye have so far been unable to agree on either a plan or a timeframe for a safe transfer of power. Instead, they are blocking each other. Martin Fritz reports.
President Park's recent announcement that she was willing to step down before the end of her five-year single term has at least temporarily thrown her opponents into a state of confusion regarding the way forward. The nation's parliament has postponed to next week the initiation of impeachment proceedings against the beleaguered president, whose approval rating has nosedived to an all-time low following the revelation of a corruption scam involving one of her close confidants.
Park's presidency has been rocked by a political scandal involving her longtime confidant Choi Soon-sil, who was indicted earlier this month for interfering in state affairs and directing funds to her non-profit organizations for her personal use. The embattled president has been the object of mass protests and calls to resign.
Park has denied accusations by prosecutors that she colluded in the criminal activities of her longtime friend Choi.
But as public support for her presidency plummeted, Park said on Tuesday that she would step down if parliament arranges a safe transfer of power, drawing fierce criticism from main opposition parties that described her overture as a tactic to buy time that would allow her to survive the scandal.
Enough support for impeachment?
Meanwhile, South Korea's ruling conservative Saenuri party is officially pushing for Park to quit office in April, party leader Chung Jin Suk said on Thursday in Seoul. Presidential elections, originally scheduled to take place at the end of 2017, could then be brought forward to June, Chung added.
Park's opponents initially wanted to commence impeachment proceedings in parliament on Friday. But the three opposition parties and anti-Park independent legislators have a total of 172 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly. They have less than the 200 votes required for the passage of an impeachment motion.
About 40 ruling party lawmakers have expressed their willingness to vote to oust Park. But after the president's resignation offer, this number has dropped to just 19.
After Park's address to the nation on Tuesday, the dissenters in her party gathered and agreed it would be best for Park to resign in April, following the installation of a neutral cabinet that can help ensure a stable transfer of power until a new president is elected, according to the office of Hwang Young-cheul, one of the lawmakers who attended the meeting. The group said they would still take part in a possible impeachment vote next Friday if details for an April resignation aren't worked out through negotiations, Hwang's office added.
Furthermore, a meeting on Thursday morning between Kim Moo-sung, a former head of Saenuri and rival of Park, and Choo Mi-ae, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, ended without a breakthrough.
Against this backdrop, if Park's offer to step down was intended to delay her impeachment by parliament, then she succeeded in it. That's because all the various political factions are now blocking each other.
At the same time, the president's office is increasing pressure on the deputies. A spokesperson, for instance, has called on the different political parties to hold talks in parliament on the procedure and timetable for Park to demit office. But the chances of an agreement over these issues are slim. Meanwhile, anti-Park protesters have taken to the streets in thousands in recent weeks demanding her resignation.
If impeached next week, Park's presidential powers would be suspended until the Constitutional Court makes a ruling on her fate. The court would have 180 days to deliberate and scrutinize the reasons for the president's removal. Six out of the nine judges will have to rule in favor of the impeachment for it to take effect.
If Park steps down before the official end of her five-year term in 2018, she will be the first South Korean president to do so since democratic reforms were implemented in 1987. In the event of her impeachment or resignation, elections are expected to take place within 60 days, in which South Koreans would nominate a new president to serve a five-year term.