Park again buys time, but fail­ure looms

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

She pulled off a deft bit of po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing, prob­a­bly born of des­per­a­tion. Now South Korea’s pres­i­dent has a sliver of breath­ing space as im­peach­ment closes in and mil­lions throng the streets to clamor for her to just go away. For Park Geun-hye, the next few days, per­haps the most cru­cial in her pres­i­dency, will de­ter­mine what po­lit­i­cal price she will pay, and ex­actly how much time she has bought. Law­mak­ers want to im­peach Park over pros­e­cu­tors’ al­le­ga­tions she al­lowed a con­fi­dante to pull gov­ern­ment strings and pur­sue ex­tor­tion schemes.

Her of­fer to shorten her term in of­fice if a bick­er­ing par­lia­ment can set up a le­gal path­way to do so has been widely crit­i­cized as a stalling ploy aimed at lur­ing back mem­bers of her con­ser­va­tive party who sup­ported im­peach­ment. That sup­port by for­mer Park loy­al­ists is cru­cial if a coali­tion of op­po­si­tion par­ties is go­ing to se­cure the nec­es­sary im­peach­ment votes.

Park’s con­di­tional res­ig­na­tion pro­posal, if it de­lays im­peach­ment, could give her time to search for a way to exit with some sense of grace, rather than be im­peached and stripped of power while a court re­views whether to drive her from of­fice. To some ex­tent, she has al­ready suc­ceeded in wrig­gling some of the way out from what had very re­cently looked like an im­pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. What had seemed to be an in­ex­orable leg­isla­tive march to­ward im­peach­ment has slowed, though it’s not yet clear how much.

Some of Park’s for­mer al­lies who’d turned against her now say that an im­peach­ment vote orig­i­nally planned for to­mor­row should be pushed back a week. Some in­flu­en­tial mem­bers of her rul­ing party also called yes­ter­day for im­peach­ment ef­forts to pause while law­mak­ers ex­am­ine how to set up a le­gal roadmap for Park’s res­ig­na­tion pro­posal.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties agreed yes­ter­day to push for an im­peach­ment vote to­mor­row, but will re­group and try again Dec 9 if they don’t have enough ini­tial sup­port to im­peach Park over what pros­e­cu­tors say was col­lu­sion with Choi Soon­sil, a con­fi­dante who al­legedly had a large say in gov­ern­ment af­fairs. Choi held no of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment po­si­tion, and al­legedly used her ties to the pres­i­dent to pres­sure com­pa­nies into giv­ing money to foun­da­tions and com­pa­nies Choi con­trolled or es­tab­lished. Park de­nies pros­e­cu­tors’ claims.

While the politi­cians scram­ble to re­group, the pres­i­dent’s speech has an­gered many cit­i­zens. After all, they say, if Park re­ally cared about what most South Kore­ans say they want, she would have sim­ply re­signed. In­stead, she ap­pears to be look­ing to re­gain just enough of her for­mer al­lies’ back­ing to at least de­lay the ef­fort to get the nec­es­sary two-thirds sup­port needed in par­lia­ment for im­peach­ment.

This puts op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers in some­thing of a bind. Where they once had a strong mo­men­tum for im­peach­ment pro­vided by huge protests each weekend, they now may face painful ne­go­ti­a­tions in a deeply di­vided par­lia­ment. This means nav­i­gat­ing a splin­tered rul­ing party and the some­times con­flict­ing views of var­i­ous op­po­si­tion par­ties. Al­though un­likely, leg­isla­tive squab­bling could even al­low Park to limp across the fin­ish line of her sin­gle, five-year term in early 2018.

All the while, ev­ery­one must gauge how this will play in Dec 2017 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, and the widely ex­pected pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Ban Ki-moon, who is fin­ish­ing up his term as UN sec­re­tary gen­eral. So Park may have bought her­self some time. But she has done noth­ing to change the wide­spread feel­ing here that she must go. If law­mak­ers fail to im­peach her to­mor­row, this may be­come es­pe­cially clear on Satur­day.

As has hap­pened the last five Satur­days, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple are again ex­pected to choke down­town Seoul’s streets in a party-like at­mos­phere of de­fi­ance. This could al­low law­mak­ers to win back the en­ergy they will need to unite dis­parate groups in par­lia­ment and push through an im­peach­ment vote. In the end, Park’s po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions may only de­lay the in­evitable. —AP

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