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Scandal paralyzes government

Power vaccum likely to persist for months to come

Dec. 1, 2016 - 17:16 By Korea Herald
While political tension heightened over how and when President Park Geun-hye will leave office, the nation’s politics sunk into a stalemate, delaying most of its key decisions and actions until the fate of the scandal-hit leader becomes clear.

Rival parties are currently divided between the embattled president’s self-directed resignation by early next year -- a scenario fielded by the ruling Saenuri Party -- or an immediate impeachment led by the legislature -- as demanded by the opposition camp.
Embattled President Park Geun-hye visits Seomun traditional market in Daegu on Thursday, a day after it burned down. It was the first time that the president attended an event outside Cheong Wa Dae since the Choi Soon-sil scandal broke out in late October. (Yonhap)

Either way, it remains that the country will be facing an earlier-than-planned presidential election in mid-2017.

With the scandal leaving a power vacuum expected to persist for several more months, public offices are shelving policy decisions, especially those that require presidential approval or guidelines.

Among those deferring their activities most are key policymakers in the Cabinet and the presidential secretariat, most of whom are unlikely to be replaced for a while.

Among the top positions is that of finance minister. Yim Jong-yong, chairman of the Financial Services Commission was tapped for the given job on Nov. 2 but yet remains a nominee as the National Assembly has not held the required confirmation hearing.

Incumbent Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho continues to hold the post, which doubles as Deputy Prime Minister, but there is widespread skepticism about his power to fully manage the nation’s faltering economy.

“I shall make sure to carry forward next year’s economic policies in a consistent manner, without vacuum,” Yoo said Wednesday in a meeting with economy-related ministers.

During the meeting, the finance chief also warned about the recent contraction of consumer and investor sentiment, triggered by the domestic political scandals and the growing external uncertainties following the US presidential election last month.

Another Cabinet post waiting to be filled is that of justice minister, which remains vacant since Kim Hyun-woong resigned early last week over the prosecution’s investigation into the Choi Soon-sil corruption scandal. His resignation was shelved for a week, until the president accepted it this week in a reluctant move.

Though the Blue House repeatedly denied it, the departure of the justice minister, who is also the top chief of the prosecution, was largely taken as a sign of disobedience against the president. Park is accused of a number of irregularities -- which the public and opposition see as reason enough for impeachment.

“My decision to resign came after careful consideration on what is right for the nation and the people,” Kim said in his farewell speech.

He also quoted an idiom saying that “when a leader fails to demonstrate faith, the people will drop out in agitation,” a phrase taken as indicating his antipathy toward the disgraced president.
President Park addresses the nation this week. (Yonhap)

Even the ministries with their respective chiefs at posts are facing a sudden halt or change in their landmark projects.

An example is the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s series of policies to nurture the biomedical and health care industries, which has lost momentum amid the rampant suspicion that President Park and her disputed confidante Choi Soon-sil covertly received illegal stem cell injections and other cosmetic surgeries.

It was also suggested that the medical care center alleged to have performed the treatment received undue payments.

While the domestic economic sectors are in turmoil, concerns also rose on exterior factors, especially the military threat of North Korea.

Following the United Nations Security Council‘s decision Wednesday to impose a new package of restrictive measures on the reclusive state, the ministry said that it would announce additional sanctions Friday to further restrict on the North’s access to foreign currency.

“(South Korea‘s unilateral action) always tends to take a step beyond the UNSC resolution,” said Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, claiming that the upcoming sanction would deliver substantial damage to the nuclear-driven North.

The escalating inter-Korean tension triggered the public’s anxiety that the domestic political row evolving around President Park may seriously impede on the nation‘s defense and foreign affairs management.

Meanwhile, the public enmity against the president persisted, with a majority still supporting impeachment, despite her recent offer to cut her term short and to follow the parliament’s decision on the timeline and procedure of departure.

According to a survey conducted by local pollster Realmeter after Park’s Tuesday address, 75.3 percent of the respondents said that they wanted Park’s ouster, down 4.2 percentage points from the previous week.

Also, civic groups leading the Saturday candlelight protests to demand Park’s ouster have recently expanded their course of action to weekday rallies, as well as mass walkouts and legal charges against conglomerates involved in the extensive corruption scandal.

By Bae Hyun-jung (