EDITORIAL: Lost 46 months

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The overwhelming impeachment vote in the National Assembly has handed over the fate of President Park Geun-hye to the nine justices at the Constitutional Court.

The fate of President Park Geun-hye has been handed over to nine justices at the Constitutional Court by the 300-seat National Assembly.

It has been 46 days since her irregularities were exposed to the public in late October, and it has been 46 months since Feb 25, 2013, when she took office and is thought to have embarked on irregular operation of administrative affairs.

Like the majority of citizens, we cordially welcome the landslide parliamentary passage of the bill to impeach Park on Friday. 

Voting down the impeachment could have been a disaster. It would have demonstrated that the Constitution-based legislative entity was truly lost: She is a prosecution-designated suspect, who allegedly cheated citizens and tarnished the nation’s image by masterminding influence-peddling alongside close aides and her civilian friends.

It was a bumpy road over the past few weeks for the ruling and opposition parties to finally see the motion pass, and there is no doubt that uncertainty about the country’s future has been lifted to a degree.

Nevertheless, the nation needs to be alert to the possibility that a bigger fiasco might happen now. Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn has to draw up plans for the country by holding a series of cabinet meetings. Priority should be given to national security and economy in place of the suspended president.

Despite his restricted role in diplomacy and personnel affairs, the cabinet should closely monitor military readiness and economic conditions for the household and business sectors in coordination with the National Assembly.

The nation’s destiny is up to the Constitutional Court, which has the crucial obligation of paving the way for Republic of Korea to begin its normalisation process as soon as possible. There has already been ample evidence caught by the prosecution and lawmakers that Park had breached the Constitution and been implicated in other legal violations.

We do not believe that the court, led by its president, Park Han-chul, will go against the citizens’ wishes. Though the democratic society will have to respect the decision of its nine justices, the righteous way must be the court accepting the impeachment accord. She could be a key culprit in the scandal, who deliberately took on a marionette-like role. 

Simultaneously, the independent counsel, which launched its investigation into the Park Geun-hye scandal this week, has been tasked with conducting a face-to-face interrogation of the suspended Park. It should push to arrest her if she rejects any summons.

A key probe target should be the whereabouts of Park when the Sewol ferry sank on April 16, 2014.

Another urgent task is to trace the 'runaway' Woo Byung-woo, who had served at Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House or the executive office and official residence of the South Korean head of state) as the senior secretary for civil affairs. He is suspected of playing a key role in allowing some civilians to meddle in the state affairs and of having engaged in private corruption.

Woo did not appear at the National Assembly as a witness for a hearing as part of the parliamentary probe into the scandal earlier this week. Assembly staff also failed to ascertain his whereabouts, though lawmakers ordered them to force him to testify.

The independent counsel should trace and capture Woo by obtaining an arrest warrant for him as quickly as possible. Woo had not suggested any prior excuse for his absence from the hearing.

The prosecution, which was probing the scandal before the counsel’s launch, issued an overseas travel ban on Woo last month. However, the investigative agency did not put him into custody after questioning him at the prosecutors’ office.

Woo is alleged to have neglected his duties as the presidential secretary in looking into the previous scandal involving Jeong Yun-hoe, which also dealt a blow to the Blue House in 2014. Jeong is the ex-husband of Choi Soon-sil, who was indicted as a key suspect in the influence-peddling scandal.

Woo’s other allegations include his mother-in-law’s shady relations with Choi. He is suspected of having pressured online game company Nexon to buy a land in the affluent southern Seoul owned by his mother-in-law.

Other accusations are that he had abused his authority to secure his son favours over his two-year mandatory military service, evading his income taxes and leaking low-key criminal information in the prosecution to the business sector.

Woo, who was a prosecutor until 2012, served at Cheong Wa Dae from May 2014 to October 2016. He quit the senior secretarial post six days after cable channel JTBC’s report on the historic meddling allegations against Choi aired on October 24.

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