The Straits Times says

South Korea falls deeper into quagmire

South Korean President Park Geun Hye's announcement on Tuesday that she is prepared to leave office was to be expected given the circumstances, which were bizarre even by the standards of the country's topsy-turvy politics. But she also laid down a condition, that legislators should first agree on a suitable and non-disruptive transition mechanism, perhaps to avoid a political vacuum emerging.

The reality though is that her leadership has suffered an irreparable blow. The public is seething over revelations that she let a crony act from the fringes of the Blue House to influence government thinking and budget proposals, and to lean on South Korea's chaebols to fund her private foundations. Ms Park knows she is now bereft of the legitimacy that leaders need to rule effectively. The regular weekend protests in Seoul that have gone on for more than a month are testimony to the public anger being unleashed against the lady they once knew as their "princess". What a contrast with the way she began her term, with South Korea riding on a high, synonymous with all things creative and cool.

Indeed, Ms Park was once a revered figure - the child who grew up in the presidential palace as the daughter of strongman Park Chung Hee, who transformed his nation during his long rule that lasted from 1961 to 1979. Her father was assassinated by his intelligence chief. Five years earlier, as a 22-year-old, she was forced to perform the duties of First Lady after her mother was assassinated by a North Korean gunman. There is no doubt Ms Park has suffered and was placed in a vulnerable position that her crony is alleged to have exploited. As fate would have it, her political experiences took her back to the Blue House but, alas, it did not teach her how to draw a firm line between personal and national interests.

Ms Park, who is allowed only a single five-year term, might stay until early 2018, but with an approval rating of less than 5 per cent, she would be a lame-duck president. South Korea's opposition has threatened to launch impeachment proceedings. But this effort may not succeed as it requires two-thirds support to pass the National Assembly, followed by approval of the Constitutional Court - which might take as long as six months. The nation should be spared this convulsion.

With a testy and unpredictable neighbour determinedly proceeding with its nuclear and ballistic missile programme, an increasingly assertive China, and an economy weakened by flagging overseas demand, there is enough to worry about on the Korean peninsula without adding political upheaval to the mix. Ms Park sought to improve relations with Japan - a move which can help to promote stability. Her successor should have a similar focus, as strategic shifts taking place in the region could alter the security outlook markedly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'South Korea falls deeper into quagmire'. Print Edition | Subscribe