South Korea political scandal

Pressure grows on Park Geun Hye to face probe

Right: Ms Choi being escorted into the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office yesterday. Far right: Ms Park with Mr Han, who was named as her new chief of staff yesterday.
Above: Ms Park with Mr Han, who was named as her new chief of staff yesterday.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Right: Ms Choi being escorted into the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office yesterday. Far right: Ms Park with Mr Han, who was named as her new chief of staff yesterday.
Above: Ms Choi being escorted into the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office yesterday. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

S. Korean leader may be investigated but it should be done in prudent way: PM nominee

Pressure is mounting for South Korean President Park Geun Hye to subject herself to an investigation over a snowballing influence-peddling scandal involving her long- time friend.

Her newly nominated prime minister, Professor Kim Byong Joon, said yesterday that it is possible for Ms Park to face a probe, but added that it should be done in a "prudent manner" as it involves the head of state.

He spoke after Justice Minister Kim Hyun Woong said he would propose a probe if necessary.

Both ruling and opposition lawmakers have demanded an investigation. A survey by local pollster Realmeter showed that seven in 10 respondents wanted Ms Park to answer questions about the scandal.

 

Ms Park's credibility as a leader has been gravely undermined by allegations that her friend, Ms Choi Soon Sil, now being questioned by prosecutors, had abused their friendship to meddle in state affairs for her own gains. Ms Choi faces at least 10 charges, including fraud and abuse of authority.

Public protests and calls for the President to step down mounted as her approval rating plunged to under 10 per cent, with lawmakers as well as opposition leader Ahn Cheol Soo and Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon all chiming in.

If Ms Park were to step down now, the Constitution requires that an election be held in 60 days. But political parties, especially her embattled Saenuri Party, are ill prepared for an early election.

The presidential Blue House is in limbo as Ms Park has struggled to replace key aides who quit to take responsibility for the country's biggest political scandal. She appointed Mr Han Gwang Ok, a key aide to the late President Kim Dae Jung, as her new chief of staff yesterday, and journalist-turned-politician Hur Won Je as senior secretary for political affairs.

Former presidential aide Ahn Jong Beom has been detained in connection with allegations that he pressured conglomerates to make huge donations to two non-profit foundations set up by Ms Choi, 60.

Analysts said Ms Park seems determined to stay in office until her five-year term ends in February 2018, even though her unilateral decision to nominate a new PM has angered opposition parties. They threatened to boycott a parliamentary hearing to endorse Prof Kim.

Prof Kim told reporters yesterday that if he becomes PM, he expects to take over economic and social affairs from Ms Park. Her power will be limited to external issues like foreign policy and security, according to the Blue House.

Prof Kim's role will be key. If approved as PM, he will stand in as president if Ms Park steps down.

 

South Korea has no history of a sitting president stepping down voluntarily, but a president can resign for health or other reasons, said law professor Lee Jae Min of Seoul National University.

If Ms Park were to step down now, the Constitution requires that an election be held in 60 days. But political parties, especially her embattled Saenuri Party, are ill prepared for an early election.

Analysts said Saenuri's image has also been tarnished by the scandal, as its members obviously knew of Ms Park's friendship with Ms Choi but did nothing about it.

The scandal has also dented the popularity of outgoing United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon, who was widely expected to run for president next year with Saenuri after his UN term ends next month.

The public favours the opposition now, with the Democratic Party's candidate Moon Jae In overtaking Mr Ban in opinion polls.

"Mr Ban is clearly a victim of this game," said Korea University political science professor Lee Nae Young. "It's possible he may run as an independent candidate or cooperate with a third party, or he may give up running for the next election."

South Korea political scandal If Ms Park were to step down now, the Constitution requires that an election be held in 60 days. But political parties, especially her embattled Saenuri Party, are ill prepared for an early election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2016, with the headline 'Pressure grows for Park to face probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe