South Korea’s scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye said Tuesday she was willing to resign early and would let parliament decide her fate as leader.
“I will leave the issue of my departure, including the (possible) reduction of my term in office, to a decision by the National Assembly”, she said in a speech carried live on television.
“Once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimises any power vacuum and chaos in governance, I will step down,” she said without giving further details.
But opponents said the statement was a tactic to derail efforts in the opposition-controlled parliament to impeach Park over the scandal, which has already seen her secret confidante Choi Soon-Sil charged with fraud and abuse of power.
A number of lawmakers from the ruling party have backed a bid by the three main opposition parties to pass a motion as early as Friday to impeach Park.
If parliament does pass the motion, Park would immediately be suspended from official duties and her prime minister would take over as an interim head of government.
The Constitutional Court could take as long as six months to decide whether to approve the impeachment.
“The presidential statement lacked sincere repentance. What the people want is her immediate resignation,” the main opposition Democratic Party said in a statement.
“It is not for her to continue biding her time, sending the ball to parliament’s court. We’ll push through with impeaching her,” it added.
Park’s Saenuri Party welcomed her statement on Tuesday, calling for the opposition parties to delay their impeachment bid.
‘It was my fault’
Massive weekly protests have been intensifying over the past month, with up to 1.5 million people braving freezing temperatures in Seoul Saturday to demand Park’s resignation, according to organisers.
Park’s justice minister stepped down, while even staunch supporters from within the president’s party have joined calls for her departure.
But Park — in her third public apology over the scandal — sought to distance herself from Choi, who allegedly leveraged her ties with the president to coerce more than $60 million in “donations” from top firms including Samsung and Hyundai.
“I pushed for the projects, sincerely believing that they were for public good and for the nation. I have not sought any personal gain there”, Park said.
“But it was my fault that I failed to keep my personal ties (with Choi and Choi’s associates) under control,” she added.
The 60-year-old Choi is also accused of interfering in government affairs, despite holding no official position.
Park had promised to submit herself to a judicial probe, as well as a separate investigation by an independent special prosecutor to be appointed by parliament. But she backtracked, with her lawyer rejecting a series of requests by prosecutors to make herself available for questioning.
Her approval ratings have plunged to a record low for a sitting president as top advisers and some of South Korea’s most powerful companies are caught up in the ever-widening scandal.
The headquarters of SK, Lotte and Samsung were raided by state prosecutors last week along with the offices of the finance ministry and state pension fund.