TOKYO — A humbled South Korean president essentially withdrew her nominee for prime minister Tuesday, marking another setback in her attempts to quell a snowballing corruption scandal.
Park Geun-hye had to walk past opposition lawmakers holding signs saying “step down” to get into the National Assembly on Tuesday, where she made a rare visit to see Chung Sye-kyun, the speaker of South Korea’s parliament.
“I came to meet the speaker, as it is my great responsibility to normalize state affairs,” Park told Chung, from the opposition Minjoo Party, during their 10-minute meeting, according to local reports.
Park is fighting for her political life after revelations that she had been taking secret advice from a lifelong friend who has no public policy background. The friend, Choi Soon-sil, used her connections to raise millions of dollars for two foundations and allegedly embezzled the money.
Choi is now under arrest, and several of Park’s top aides have been detained or are being investigated. Park went on live television twice in 10 days to apologize for her lack of judgment in trusting Choi, the daughter of a cult leader, and the president has replaced some of her senior advisers.
She also planned to replace her prime minister with Kim Byong-joon, who served as policy chief to a liberal president a decade ago. However, the opposition chafed at the conservative president’s “unilateral” decision and said it would not confirm Kim.
With some lawmakers calling on Park to resign or risk being impeached, politicians from across the political spectrum are urging her to hand over day-to-day management of domestic affairs to a prime minister.
Park on Tuesday asked lawmakers to recommend a new candidate for prime minister, saying she would let him run her cabinet. “If the National Assembly recommends a new prime minister, I will appoint him and let him control the cabinet,” she said, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Her efforts have so far done little, if anything, to assuage public criticism over the way she has operated as president. Park’s approval ratings last week plumbed new depths of 5 percent, according to a poll from Gallup Korea. It was the lowest recorded approval rating since South Korea democratized in 1987.
Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday night for the second week in a row, and organizers said they are planning an even bigger demonstration this weekend.