Seoul: South Korean president said on Tuesday she’s willing to resign after an influence-peddling scandal at the heart of business and government brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the street demanding her ouster.
In a televised address in Seoul, Park apologized for a third time since the scandal broke and asked parliament to decide the direction of a power transition. The legislature will now have to debate how to deal with Park’s proposal, which came as opposition lawmakers and some politicians from her own party pushed for her impeachment.
“I will entrust the parliament with the issue of whether I should resign or remain in office,” Park said. “When the opposition and ruling party lawmakers come up with a plan to minimize confusion and the vacuum in state affairs and lead to stable transfer of the government, I will resign from my post in accordance with the schedule and legal procedures of that plan.”
Her announcement comes days after one of the nation’s biggest ever demonstrations saw protesters march to her office to demand her resignation and arrest. The 64-year old president faces an investigation for allowing her friend Choi Soon-sil to interfere in government affairs. Park’s approval rating sank to an all-time low of 4% last week.
“She’s trying to buy time,” said Kim Yun-cheol, who teaches political science at the Humanitas College of Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “This isn’t a major change from earlier addresses, because she should have given a clear timetable on her resignation herself. She anyway knows lawmakers can’t easily reach agreement.”
The won rose after Park’s speech, climbing 0.2% to 1,168.65 per dollar as of 3:33 pm in Seoul. The currency has lost more than 3% since the scandal broke on 24 October.
Democratic Party of Korea leader Choo Mi-ae wrote on Facebook that Park is employing a “petty ruse” to avoid being impeached by offering to resign. The second-biggest opposition People’s Party will continue to seek impeachment, spokesman Son Kum-ju said.
The two opposition parties, which together hold 159 seats, have been seeking to submit a motion as soon as 2 December and secure backing from two-thirds of the 300-member National Assembly.
Some lawmakers in Park’s Saenuri Party have indicated they will vote with the opposition to remove her. The party said on its website after Park’s speech that it accepts her decision and will do what it can to normalize state affairs.
The scandal has also shed a light on the links between politicians and businessmen that have allowed the country’s family-run conglomerates to dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy for decades. Prosecutors have said Park colluded in a scheme to pressure the nation’s top businesses to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi. Park has called the probe a work of “imagination” and speculation.
Prosecutors charged her long-time friend Choi for attempted fraud and expanded the investigation into Park’s aides and executives at some of South Korea’s biggest companies, including Samsung Electronics Co. and Hyundai Motor Co.
Park’s single five-year term is due to expire in February 2018. A presidential election will be held within 60 days of her stepping down, and the prime minister would take over as interim leader should she resign. Bloomberg
Shinhye Kang, Seyoon Kim, Sam Kim and Heesu Lee also contributed to this story.