President Park Geun-hye accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo on Monday, a week after he offered to quit amid snowballing allegations that he received illegal political funds from a deceased businessman.
The announcement came hours after the president returned from her trip from South America. Lee’s farewell ceremony was held later in the evening.
The president, however, remained silent on the graft scandal, with her office explaining she would need a day or two of rest after falling ill during her Latin American tour last week. Park has been facing mounting calls to state her position over the scandal.
The president returned from the 12-day trip Monday morning, but has been suffering from a sore throat and abdominal pain, her spokesperson Min Kyung-wook told reporters.
Presidential medical staff have advised rest for one or two days for what is apparent “overwork,” Min added.
“Adnominal pain caused by stomach cramps due to chronic fatigue was her major symptom,” he said. “The president’s health condition was not good (during the trip), as she also had a mild fever caused by pharyngitis,” he said, adding that Park powered through her schedule, despite her bad health.
Min said the office would announce her forthcoming schedules and her “position” on the looming political crisis in due time, stressing her health is “the top priority.”
Park was expected to preside over the weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday, but she chose not to attend the meeting, according to officials. With the prime minister leaving the office, Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, who serves as deputy premier, would chair the meeting this week, they said.
Lee was one of eight political heavyweights alleged to have accepted illegal political funds from deceased ex-Keangnam chairman Sung Woan-jong. Park last week expressed regrets over the prime minister’s resignation, saying it must have been a tough decision for Lee to step down from the post. Park appointed Lee, a veteran politician and former Saenuri floor leader, in February as part of efforts to seek momentum in her reform drive.
Expectations are high on how Park will respond to the burgeoning scandal, as the opposition party raised speculations that some of the cash received by the eight politicians was used for her presidential campaign in 2012.
With Park returning from her trip, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy intensified demands for her to apologize over her aides’ alleged involvement in corruption.
“The president should offer a sincere apology,” said opposition leader Moon Jae-in.
“A genuine apology is needed to guarantee a fair investigation into the corruption allegations involving those in power as they are suspected of using the money for her presidential campaign,” he said.
Ruling party chief Kim Moo-sung, apparently concerned at the president’s falling popularity ahead of the by-election this week, said Park would deliver a public apology soon.
“In the course of the prosecution’s investigation, the president will apologize, in one form or another,” he said Sunday.
Kim’s remark prompted fresh speculation that Cheong Wa Dae and the governing party may have agreed in advance to deliver the president’s apology shortly as the scandal inflicted significant damage to both.
The presidential office, however, denied the speculation, saying it would be inappropriate for Park to apologize when there is no concrete evidence to prove the graft allegations. Instead of an apology, the president could express regret over the prime minister’s resignation, as she was the one who appointed him, a Cheong Wa Dae official was quoted as saying.
A pro-Park member at the ruling party also claimed it would be too early for her to make an official apology as she would have no other political means to seek a breakthrough if the political crisis deepens to an unfavorable issue to her and her party.
The focus of the scandal can also be shifted to NPAD, as the ruling party has raised speculation that the opposition leader may have had suspicious ties with the dead businessman. Saenuri attacked NPAD, saying Sung was granted a special pardon by the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, although he was not eligible. Moon denied the speculations and accused the ruling party of attempting to divert public attention away from the scandal. Moon was Roh’s chief of staff at the time.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)