Bat­tered Park ac­cepts PM res­ig­na­tion

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye on Mon­day ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of her prime min­is­ter over a widen­ing bribery scan­dal that has tainted se­nior mem­bers of her fal­ter­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Park was on a four-na­tion tour of South Amer­ica when Lee Wan-koo of­fered to step down. The de­ci­sion was con­firmed by an of­fi­cial from the pres­i­dent’s of­fice hours af­ter her re­turn.

Although nom­i­nally the sec­ond-high­est of­fi­cial in the coun­try, the prime min­is­ter fills a largely cer­e­mo­nial role in South Korea, where power is con­cen­trated in the pres­i­dency.

But the post car­ries sym­bolic weight and Lee’s de­par­ture af­ter barely two months in the job is a fresh blow for an in­creas­ingly be­lea­guered Park.

Lee’s hand was forced by a scan­dal trig­gered by the sui­cide ear­lier this month of Sung Wan-jong, the for­mer head of a bank­rupt con­struc­tion com­pany.

In the dead man’s pocket, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a note that listed the names of eight peo­ple — in­clud­ing Lee and pres­i­den­tial chief of staff Lee Byung-kee — along­side num­bers that al­legedly in­di­cate bribery sums.

The sui­cide came as Sung was about to be ques­tioned by pros­e­cu­tors over al­le­ga­tions that he cre­ated a slush fund with em­bez­zled com­pany money to bribe politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Although Lee had re­peat­edly protested his in­no­cence, the pres­sure to step down in­ten­si­fied af­ter the main op­po­si­tion party said it would seek his for­mal im­peach­ment.

Th­ese are tur­bu­lent times for Pres­i­dent Park, whose ap­proval rat­ings have yet to re­cover from the pound­ing they took in the wake of last year’s Se­wol ferry dis­as­ter.

Re­cent weeks have seen mas­sive antigov­ern­ment street protests in Seoul by ferry vic­tims’ rel­a­tives and their sup­port­ers, as well as trade union-or­ga­nized ral­lies across the coun­try to de­nounce Park’s la­bor re­forms.

The pres­i­dent’s trip to South Amer­ica, which crit­ics said was timed to co­in­cide with the first an­niver­sary of the Se­wol dis­as­ter, kept her out of the di­rect fir­ing line for a while, but there will be lit­tle respite now she is back.

The pres­i­den­tial of­fice said ear­lier Mon­day that Park, who on her re­turn avoided the usual press brief­ing for re­porters ac­com­pa­ny­ing her on the flight, had been ad­vised to rest for two days af­ter com­plain­ing of stom­ach cramps and a sore throat.

Her spokesman put her con­di­tion down to over­work and fa­tigue.

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