South Korean President Park Geun-hye offers to step down
Opposition accuses scandal-mired leader of ploy to delay impeachment
by: Song Jung-a in Seoul
Source: Financial Time
Park Geun-hye has offered to step down as South Korea’s president, asking parliament to come up with a plan to ensure stable regime change amid a corruption scandal that has riveted the nation.
Ms Park said she would step down according to a schedule agreed by lawmakers to minimise a leadership vacuum. However, her proposal was rejected by opposition politicians as a ploy to delay her impeachment.
“I have now laid everything down. I’ll leave everything about my future to parliament, including shortening my term,” the president said in a televised address. “I will step down according to the schedule and legal procedures agreed by lawmakers for the stable transfer of power.”
Her speech comes as she faces mounting public calls to resign — a move she has so far resisted — and as opposition lawmakers prepare to impeach her. Ms Park has 15 months left of her single five-year term but, if she were to be impeached or resign, an election would be held in 60 days.
The main opposition Democratic party dismissed her proposal as a political ploy to delay her departure and pledged to push ahead with its impeachment motion, which could be voted on as early as Friday.
“She is handing the ball to parliament, when she could simply step down,” said Park Kwang-on, a Democratic party lawmaker. “She is asking the parliament to pick a date for her resignation, which she knows would lead to a discussion on when to hold the presidential election and delay everything.”
Ms Park said she hoped her offer would end political confusion and put the country back on track as soon as possible. But Shin Yul, a professor of politics at Myongji University in Seoul, predicted that the country’s political unrest would probably persist as Ms Park attempted to weather her crisis.
“She is trying to prolong this chaos by making things more complex,” he said. “The opposition should put the motion for her impeachment within this week.”
Ms Park’s approval rating has fallen to a record low of 4 per cent as her closest aides have been indicted for alleged abuse of power.
Tens of thousands of South Koreans have taken to the streets on recent weekends to demand the president’s resignation. The protests followed allegations that her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil meddled in state affairs — influencing everything from budget proposals and policy drafts to what Ms Park should wear — and extorted fundsfrom top South Korean companies.
Ms Park was named by prosecutors as a criminal “conspirator” in the scheme and she is the first South Korean president to face a criminal probe. But she has not made herself available for interrogation by prosecutors, with her lawyer saying she would instead comply with a probe by a separate independent counsel.