By Anna Fifield,
TOKYO – South Korean president Park Geun-hye, embroiled in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal, said Tuesday that she would allow the National Assembly to determine her fate, apparently signaling that she would resign if lawmakers vote to impeach her.
Making her third televised address to the nation in two months, Park again apologized for the scandal, which has angered the nation and created a political vacuum. But in a surprise announcement, she said that she would give in to demands that she stand down if the assembly demanded it.
“I will delegate the decision on shortening of my term to the national assembly,” a chastened Park said Tuesday. “I will abide by their legislation and will step down afterwards. … I hope that the nation will move out of this turmoil and go back to its original trajectory.”
This means Park could stand down as soon as Friday, when opposition parties, with the support of dozens of lawmakers from Park’s Saenuri party, hope to put a motion to impeach the president.
“We will quickly move to complete the impeachment this week,” Woo Sang-ho, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said earlier Tuesday, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
[As the South Korean assembly prepares to impeach the president, paralysis looms]
Park, South Korea’s first woman president and the daughter of military dictator Park Chung-hee — who ruled with an iron fist in the 1960s and 1970s — is coming under unprecedented pressure to step down.
She is suspected of allowing her lifelong friend, Choi Soon-sil, to use their relationship to raise tens of millions of dollars from big businesses and of letting her wield extensive influence over the running of the country. Choi has now been indicted on charges of coercion, fraud and abuse of power, and prosecutors say Park was an accomplice to the crimes.
Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday for the fifth weekend in a row, calling on her to resign. The latest Gallup Korea poll put Park’s approval rating at 4 percent — the lowest it had ever recorded for any president since democratization in 1987.
In her first public address, on September 25, Park admitted that Choi had given her advice on speeches and how to present herself in public. The speech was widely considered to be insufficient so the notoriously press-shy Park appeared for a second time, on November 2. Then, she made a more emotional appeal, describing herself as lonely and saying she had committed an error of judgement by relying too much on her only friend.
But both addresses failed to quell the public uproar over the scandal.
[Here’s what’s involved in impeaching a president in South Korea]
Still, Park had remained defiant, refusing to be questioned by prosecutors, who had been asking to talk to her in person by Tuesday.
Her attorney, Yoo Yeong-ha, said Monday that the president would not be able to cooperate with the prosecutors because of her busy schedule. “The president has a difficult schedule because she has to prepare measures to cope with this urgent situation,” Yoo said in a text message to reporters.
Park cannot be prosecuted while in office but she can be investigated, and charges could be laid against her once she steps down. Opposition lawmakers have been suggesting she could face charges including abuse of power, bribery and leaking confidential information.
Separately, Park accepted the resignation of her justice minister, Kim Hyun-woong, who has said that he could not continue in his job because of the tensions between the presidential office and the prosecutors. But Park did not allow Choi Jai-kyeong, an aide in the presidential office who advises her on legal issues, to step down from his post.
South Koreans are no strangers to political corruption scandals — every president since democratization in 1987 has become embroiled in some kind of money-related case. But this scandal has particularly incensed people because of the suggestion that a person who had no experience — Choi had never held any kind of public office and had no security clearance — was allowed to act as “shadow president,” having a say on everything from North Korea policy to the president’s wardrobe.
[Why are South Koreans so angry about presidential ‘Choi-gate’? Here are 4 reasons.]
Plus Choi, who has been indicted on charges including extortion and fraud, is accused of using her connection to the president to enrich herself and win favorable treatment for her family. Choi is alleged to have raised almost $70 million from big businesses including Samsung, the country’s flagship conglomerate, ostensibly for two foundations but actually for herself. Furthermore, Choi’s daughter seems to have won admission to a prestigious university, despite not meeting the requirements for entry.
The scandal continues to widen, with prosecutors last week raiding the headquarters of Samsung and other conglomerates including SK and Lotte, as well as the offices of the national pension fund and the university that Choi’s daughter attended.
Along the way, there have been numerous bizarre twists in this tale, notably the revelation last week that the presidential office had bought 364 erectile dysfunction pills. A spokesman explained that they were for the president to take in case she experienced altitude sickness while traveling abroad.
Prosecutors link South Korean president to corruption scandal
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