Top Contender for Korean Presidency to Seek Park Resignation

  • Moon Jae-in says situation has reached irreversible point
  • Moon ran unsucessfully against Park in 2012 election

Moon Jae-in.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Moon Jae-in, the front-runner to become South Korea’s next president, said Tuesday he would seek the resignation of scandal-hit incumbent Park Geun-hye.

"We have reached an irreversible situation,” Moon said in a televised briefing. “I will run a nationwide campaign to push her out until she declares unconditional resignation.”

Moon’s campaign will ratchet up pressure on the president who is embroiled in an influence-peddling scandal and faces questioning this week by prosecutors. Her lawyer, Yoo Yeong-ha, said at a separate briefing Tuesday that she needs more time to prepare for her defense and that it is preferable that the investigation be conducted via written questions.

With about 16 months left in her single five-year term, Park has given no sign that she is prepared to step down and lose her presidential immunity. Even so, she’s twice apologized to the nation for consulting her friend Choi Soon-sil on state affairs, and her approval rate has dropped to 5 percent.

Read more here on Park’s approval rate of zero among young people

Moon, the runner-up in the 2012 presidential election, joined hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul on Saturday in the nation’s biggest protest in decades. Moon, a former leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea, previously urged Park to allow the parliament to form a coalition government and take a back seat in running the country.

“Park is defying the will of the people, unable to drop her obsession with power,” Moon said. "The bitter lamentation of the people is an expression of frustration that can’t be healed just by her stepping down.”

Leading Contender

In a Realmeter poll released Monday, Moon was narrowly ahead of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the leading contender to become the next president. About 21 percent of respondents picked Moon, compared to 17.2 percent who chose Ban.

The former human rights lawyer served as President Roh Moo-hyun’s chief of staff and stands at odds with Park over a range of issues, including how to handle the economy and North Korea.

His call for Park’s resignation follows former ruling party leader Kim Moo-sung’s argument on Sunday that it was time to impeach Park. Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority in the 300-member parliament.

“Moon probably thought he can now confront the president given the public backing shown at the Saturday protest," Rhee Jong-hoon, a political commentator and research fellow at Myongji University, said by phone. “This probably is a necessary procedure for the opposition to take the next step: an impeachment motion.”

Prosecutors have arrested Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil to investigate the extent of her interference with state affairs through her private relationship with the president. They are also questioning a former presidential adviser on the suspicion that he exercised undue pressure on companies to raise money for Choi’s non-profit foundations.

On Monday, the ruling and two opposition parties agreed to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation. The three parties together hold 288 seats in the National Assembly.

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