South Korea’s Park Open to April Resignation Date, Adviser Says

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye signaled she would be willing to step down in April as opposition lawmakers said they might have enough votes to impeach her this week over an influence-peddling scandal.

Park would accept the ruling Saenuri Party’s proposal that she step down at the end of April, her senior political adviser, Hur Won-je, said Monday at a parliamentary hearing. Her resignation would pave the way for a presidential election in 60 days. If parliament votes to impeach her, Park would be suspended from power unless the move is rejected by the constitutional court.

“If Park is suspended, her hands would be tied and she wouldn’t be able to make a move when she wants to when the situation improves for her,” said Nam Chang-hee, a political science professor at South Korea’s Inha University. “Resigning in April would buy her nearly five months of time to exercise influence.”

A resignation offer may be too late to halt the momentum for her impeachment. A faction of her party agreed Sunday to support an impeachment motion set for vote on Friday regardless of whether she resigns in April or not, Chang Je-won, a Saenuri Party lawmaker, said on Facebook. The 29 lawmakers made their decision after witnessing Saturday’s protest against Park, the biggest yet.

“Joining the impeachment vote is the only way to humbly accept the wishes of the people and put the government affairs back on track,” Chang said.

Read about South Korean businessmen to be grilled this week over the scandal

Chang’s faction would provide opposition just enough votes to reach the threshold of 200 required to pass the motion in the 300-seat National Assembly. More than 170 opposition and independent politicians endorsed the motion filed last week.

The anti-Park rally on Saturday -- the sixth since she apologized to the nation in October for allowing her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to meddle in government affairs -- drew 320,000 protesters in Seoul, according to police. Organizers put the number at 1.7 million.

Park is mulling how early she should resign and will announce her decision soon, her chief of staff, Han Gwang-ok, told lawmakers separately at Monday’s parliamentary hearing.

The president may give her fourth national address over the scandal on Tuesday or Wednesday, Yonhap News said, citing unidentified people in the ruling party. Presidential spokesman Kim Dong-jo said he had no information about a potential address.

Park’s single, five-year term is scheduled to end in early 2018. Her impeachment, if approved by the parliament, must be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, a process that can take as long as 180 days. A presidential election would follow in 60 days if the court agrees to remove her from power.

A former Park adviser has been indicted on charges of placing undue pressure on some of the country’s biggest companies to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi. Park has denied seeking any personal gain. Parliament is holding a series of hearings this week with her aides and the executives at the companies, including Jay Y. Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co.

“If she says she’s voluntarily resigning, it would be her last-ditch attempt to save pride,” said Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center in Seoul. “She wouldn’t want to be remembered as a president forced out of office, but rather as one who stepped down from power on her own.”