Power vac­uum weighs on South Korea as Park fights for sur­vival

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL:

As the cho­rus grows louder for South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye to re­sign over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal, a power vac­uum is weigh­ing on her administration, leav­ing her po­lit­i­cal sur­vival in doubt and its vul­ner­a­ble econ­omy ex­posed to po­lit­i­cal shocks. South Korean op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties said this week they will re­view strate­gies to im­peach Park af­ter pros­e­cu­tors said she was an ac­com­plice in the cor­rup­tion scan­dal. Park’s close friend and a for­mer pres­i­den­tial aide were in­dicted on Sun­day for abuse of power for pres­sur­ing big busi­nesses to con­trib­ute funds to foun­da­tions at the cen­tre of the scan­dal.

“Based on the con­sen­sus that Pres­i­dent Park is the cen­tre of the abuse of power scan­dal, the best course of ac­tion to min­i­mize the vac­uum in gov­ern­ment and to re­store con­sti­tu­tional rule is for her to step down,” the lead­ers of three op­po­si­tion par­ties said in a joint state­ment on Sun­day. Park has all but ceased pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties as pres­i­dent and has with­drawn to the se­cluded Blue House com­pound at the foothill of the rocky Mount Bu­gak in Seoul. On 12 of the 16 work­ing days this month, she took part in no sched­uled events.

She held a pre­vi­ously ar­ranged sum­mit with Kazakh Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan Nazarbayev on Nov 10 but has not had a pub­lic event out­side the Blue House since Nov 8, when she vis­ited par­lia­ment of­fer­ing to re­lin­quish some of her pow­ers in of­fice to pla­cate law­mak­ers. The risk of a pres­i­den­tial im­peach­ment in the demo­cratic South, along with North Korea’s nu­clear threat, have turned the Korean penin­sula into Asia’s big­gest un­known for global in­vestors, Belinda Boa, Head of Ac­tive In­vest­ments for Asia Pa­cific at Black­Rock, told Reuters in an in­ter­view on Mon­day.

Miss­ing at APEC

Park was no­tably ab­sent at the meet­ing of 21 Asia Pa­cific lead­ers in Lima at the week­end, where free trade and a fight against pro­tec­tion­ism were the key top­ics un­der the loom­ing US pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump, who has al­ready said he would scrap the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade pact. Half of South Korea’s GDP comes from ex­ports so it is vul­ner­a­ble to more pro­tec­tion­ist US trade pol­icy pledged by Trump. Prime Min­is­ter Hwang Kyo-ahn, who at­tended the Pa­cific Rim sum­mit on Park’s be­half briefly met the host, Peru­vian Pres­i­dent Pe­dro Pablo Kuczyn­ski but held no bi­lat­eral meet­ings with world lead­ers, who use the oc­ca­sion to deepen bi­lat­eral ties.

It was the first time a leader of South Korea, which is a found­ing mem­ber, has not at­tended the APEC sum­mit. The prime min­is­ter is largely a fig­ure­head ap­pointee tasked with over­see­ing the cabi­net on do­mes­tic is­sues.

Park also missed the cabi­net meet­ing on Tues­day, ex­tend­ing her ab­sence since Oct 11 when she last led the meet­ing she nor­mally chairs ev­ery two weeks. It was in­stead chaired by the fi­nance min­is­ter, who is on the way out. Lit­tle has been done on re­place­ments nom­i­nated for three cabi­net po­si­tions, in­clud­ing the to fi­nance job. “She is likely to be do­ing her job that she can do on her own, as long as it’s some­thing that re­quires the least con­tact with the pub­lic,” said Kim Jun-seok, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Dong­guk Univer­sity in Seoul. “But she won’t be able to bring any new le­gal ini­tia­tive or raise a new pol­icy agenda,” Kim said.

Park’s five-year term runs to Fe­bru­ary 2018. Her sparse of­fi­cial sched­ule in Novem­ber is in con­trast to the busy month she had a year ago, in­clud­ing a three-way sum­mit with the lead­ers of China and Ja­pan, a sep­a­rate sum­mit with Ice­landic pres­i­dent, four ma­jor pol­icy con­fer­ences and two cabi­net meet­ings. Park’s of­fice has said she in­tends to ful­fill her du­ties as pres­i­dent and has not for­mally ac­knowl­edged the calls from the pub­lic and par­lia­ment for her to step down or race im­peach­ment. She still in­tends to at­tend the three-way North Asia sum­mit if this year’s host, Ja­pan, con­firms the date, the for­eign min­istry has said.

But it was un­clear if Park can con­tinue to rep­re­sent the coun­try diplo­mat­i­cally when other coun­tries might be am­biva­lent about sched­ul­ing sum­mit meet­ings with her. “Diplo­mat­i­cally this cri­sis is known around the world so the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion has been hurt and that is a prob­lem diplo­mat­i­cally,” Ha Kyung-chull, a for­mer judge on the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, told Reuters. “Both do­mes­ti­cally and diplo­mat­i­cally, you have to say rule by the pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs is quite dif­fi­cult.” Some of her clos­est ad­vis­ers said pri­vately that they hope if she can ride out the next few weeks, she will be able to sur­vive the cri­sis as pub­lic sen­ti­ment cooled and more peo­ple chose to avoid the tur­moil of a pre­ma­ture end to her pres­i­dency. —Reuters

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