S Korean rul­ing party splits over im­peached pres­i­dent Par­ties, po­ten­tial can­di­dates pos­ture for elec­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

While lawyers des­per­ately tried to re­store the im­peached South Korean pres­i­dent’s pow­ers, pol­i­tics ad­vanced with­out her yesterday as par­ties and po­ten­tial can­di­dates pos­tured for elec­tions that could take place in just months.

Dozens of law­mak­ers split from the con­ser­va­tive rul­ing party and likely will try to cre­ate a party field­ing out­go­ing UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon as its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Ban’s po­ten­tial ri­vals re­acted by ques­tion­ing his pres­i­den­tial cre­den­tials and tout­ing their own ideas, in­clud­ing sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy changes in re­gard with re­la­tions with nu­clear-armed North Korea and al­lies United States and Ja­pan.

Choung By­oung-gug, one of the 29- law­mak­ers who left the Saenuri Party ac­cused Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye’s loy­al­ists in the party’s lead­er­ship of “ne­glect­ing the val­ues of real con­ser­vatism” and “shame­lessly de­fend­ing the his­tor­i­cally worst in­fringe­ment of con­sti­tu­tional val­ues.” More Saenuri law­mak­ers may leave the party in the com­ing weeks.

The split came as in­ves­ti­ga­tors widened their in­quiry into the scan­dal sur­round­ing Park, who has been ac­cused of al­low­ing a long­time con­fi­dante of ma­nip­u­lat­ing gov­ern­ment af­fairs and col­lud­ing with the friend to ex­tort money and fa­vors from the coun­try’s big­gest com­pa­nies. The spe­cial pros­e­cu­tion team planned to sum­mon the pres­i­dent’s jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, but she re­quested a de­lay cit­ing health rea­sons.

Ban is seen as the best hope for con­ser­va­tives to win the Blue House af­ter Park’s col­lapse com­pli­cated pol­i­tics for her party. Re­cent opin­ion polls show vot­ers slightly fa­vor Ban ahead of lib­eral politi­cian Moon Jae-in, who con­ceded the pres­i­den­tial race to Park four years ago. In a re­cent meet­ing with South Korean re­porters in New York, Ban de­scribed the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil at home as heart­break­ing and said he was ready to “burn” his body in devo­tion for South Korea, his strong­est hint yet that he would run for pres­i­dent.

Kim Ky­oung-soo, an op­po­si­tion law­maker who serves as Moon’s spokesman, dis­missed the plans by the Saenuri de­fec­tors to cre­ate a new party for the pres­i­den­tial race, say­ing “wa­ter­mel­ons can’t be made by draw­ing lines on zuc­chi­nis.” Kim said vot­ers “will not ap­prove a po­lit­i­cal reshuf­fle that lacks sin­cere re­morse and self-re­flec­tion, and only chases the delu­sion of recre­at­ing a pseudo con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.”

Moon likely would have to with­stand a chal­lenge from out­spo­ken Seong­nam city mayor Lee Jae-myung in the Demo­cratic Party’s pri­maries. Lee, who brands him­self as an anti-es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure and is com­pared to both Don­ald Trump and Bernie San­ders, saw his pop­u­lar­ity rise amid the rage over Park’s scan­dal. He calls for stronger poli­cies to re­duce the widen­ing gap be­tween rich and poor and curb the ex­cesses of “chae­bol” - the large, fam­ily-owned con­glom­er­ates that dom­i­nate the coun­try’s econ­omy.

In a meet­ing with re­porters yesterday, Lee said Ban’s pop­u­lar­ity could soon de­cline over al­le­ga­tions that he “used a high-pro­file post to gain per­sonal prof­its,” ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to al­le­ga­tions raised by news re­ports that he took bribes from a busi­ness­man in 2005 and 2007. Ban has de­nied the claims.

Lee also said South Korea should stop the de­ploy­ment of an ad­vanced US mis­sile de­fense sys­tem to de­fend it from North Korea. Echo­ing Moon’s po­si­tion, Lee said the se­cu­rity ben­e­fits of hav­ing Ter­mi­nal High-Al­ti­tude Area De­fense, or THAAD, are di­min­ished by wors­ened re­la­tions with China. The planned de­plo­ment has an­gered China, which sus­pects that the sys­tem would al­low US radar to better track its mis­siles.

Sex­ual slav­ery

Lee also crit­i­cized Park’s agree­ment on com­pen­sa­tion for South Korean women forced into sex­ual slav­ery by the Ja­panese mil­i­tary in World War II and says Seoul should al­low a new mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Tokyo to ex­pire. Lee said South Kore­ans still dis­trust Ja­pan be­cause it never sin­cerely apol­o­gized for in­vad­ing and colo­nialz­ing the Korean Penin­sula in the early 20th cen­tury.

The date of any early pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is de­pended on the out­come of the im­peach­ment case against Park. Par­lia­ment voted on Dec 9 to im­peach her, and the Con­sti­tu­tional Court has up to six months to de­cide whether Park should per­ma­nently step down or be re­in­stated. Her pres­i­den­tial pow­ers are sus­pended un­til then, with the prime min­is­ter serv­ing as the gov­ern­ment care­taker. If the court for­mally re­moves Park from of­fice, a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion must be held within 60 days.

At the court’s prepara­tory hear­ing yesterday, Park’s lawyers chal­lenged whether she had to at­tend the trial. Her lawyers also asked the court to re­quest 16 or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­pa­nies to sub­mit re­ports an­swer­ing whether they were re­ally forced into giv­ing money and fa­vors to foun­da­tions con­trolled by Choi, as has been al­leged. Law­mak­ers, who are act­ing as the prose­cu­tors in the case, said the re­quest shouldn’t be made be­cause it could pres­sure the com­pa­nies. The re­quests were seen as an at­tempt to buy time for Park. The court said it would hear plead­ings in the case on Jan 3. — AP

SEOUL: A man walks by a bus stop dis­played with posters de­pict­ing im­peached South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye in pink ma­nip­u­lat­ing three of her aides while she is also ma­nip­u­lated as a mar­i­onette by her jailed con­fi­dante Choi Soon-sil, seen above Park’s left shoul­der. — AP

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