Park Geun Hye likely to step down by end-April

Ms Choo Mi Ae (far left), head of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, indicating a poster counting down to voting day on the motion to impeach President Park Geun Hye yesterday.
Ms Choo Mi Ae (left), head of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, indicating a poster counting down to voting day on the motion to impeach President Park Geun Hye yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But South Korean opposition bloc going ahead with impeachment vote on Friday

South Korean President Park Geun Hye looks set to resign by April over a corruption scandal that has turned the people against her, even though opposition parties are still pushing for her impeachment.

Ms Park's senior political adviser Hur Won Je yesterday told a parliamentary hearing that the President would accept the ruling Saenuri Party's proposal for her to step down by the end of April, which would pave the way for elections to be held by June.

But the opposition bloc, which controls a majority in Parliament, still plans to hold an impeachment vote on Friday.

They could succeed if some 40 anti-Park Saenuri lawmakers support the motion as promised, to make a two-thirds majority.

The motion could fail if Ms Park announces her resignation, prompting the ruling party lawmakers to retract their support.

She is slated to do so by tomorrow, according to local reports.

The developments come on the heels of a sixth straight weekend of nationwide anti-Park protests which organisers say drew a record 2.32 million people.

Ms Park, 64, is accused of allowing her confidante Choi Soon Sil to meddle in state affairs, including Cabinet appointments, and peddle influence through her proximity to the President.

Parliament will today summon the heads of nine of the country's biggest conglomerates, including Samsung and Hyundai, to investigate donations of billions of won to two foundations started by Choi, and if they got any favours from the government in return.

The special hearing will air nationwide, an official at the investigation committee said.

Choi is expected to be questioned tomorrow, although she has tried to decline, citing health reasons.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen over what could happen to Ms Park after she quits and loses her presidential immunity.

Experts say her fate - especially the likelihood of her being taken to court - hinges on how her departure pans out and which party wins the next presidential election.

A Saenuri president could be lenient towards her, while one from the opposition will likely be more harsh.

An independent counsel appointed last week is racing to put together an investigation team of 105 members, including some 20 prosecutors. The team has a mandate to investigate the case for 90 days, which can be extended by a month.

Meanwhile, Ms Park is leaving nothing to chance.

The presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, is forming a team of four to five lawyers to defend her, reported Yonhap news agency.

President Park is just the latest in a string of South Korean leaders to fall from grace over corruption.

The country's fifth president, Chun Doo Hwan, and sixth president, Roh Tae Woo, both served jail time for corruption after their terms ended.

They were pardoned in 1997 by the seventh president, Kim Young Sam.

Ninth president, Roh Moo Hyun, committed suicide in 2009, a year after he left office, amid allegations of corruption and influence peddling against his family members.

Political commentator David Lee said of Ms Park: "Like Roh, she will probably stay in Korea and face the consequence. There is no escape for her.

"But who knows the future? There could be political negotiations between her and the next president, and she might not even be charged at all."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Park likely to step down by end-April'. Print Edition | Subscribe