The ruling party has become divided and President Park Geun Hye has begun a cabinet reshuffle to fix the situation.
Accusations of corrupt influence by a friend of hers on state affairs have negatively impacted Park’s prestige and could have unpredictable results.
Tens of thousands of Koreans took to the street in Seoul to call for the President’s resignation.
Under pressure from the public, her ruling Saenuri Party, and opposition parties, President Park initiated a cabinet reshuffle, replacing the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister in Charge of Economic Issues, and the Minister of People’s Security.
But her move was opposed by opposition parties. The parliament said it would not approve her replacements. 8 of her top aides have already resigned.
To resign or be impeached
Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye’s friend, is at the center of the political crisis.
Choi has been in emergency custody since November 1, accused of allegedly influencing government affairs and amassing an illicit fortune by taking advantage of her close ties with President Park Geun-hye.
It’s estimated that about US$44 million has been diverted to Choi’s non-profit funds. Last week, President Park acknowledged that she gave her close friend some of her draft speeches early in her presidential term and she apologized for worrying the public.
Choi acknowledged that she received the documents but denied any involvement in national affairs or forcing businesses to make donations to her fund.
Support for President Park has plummeted. Analysts say any attempt by opposition parties to impeach President Park will not be easy because it will require the approval of the Supreme Court, which is appointed by the President.
Korea’s Constitution says an incumbent President is exempt from any criminal prosecution or impeachment, except for breaching national interest and sovereignty with a foreign connection.
A presidential election will take place next year and many believe the opposition will use this scandal to undermine the ruling party.
Impact on external affairs
This political crisis threatens President Park Geun Hye’s effectiveness in her final year in office and affect ROK’s internal and external affairs, including its tough policies on DPRK.
The ROK recently approved the final phase of the US’s deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Korea.
Under Korea’s Constitution, if the President resigns, an election must be held within 60 days. The next presidential election is scheduled to take place in December, 2017.