What does Park's concession of power mean for South Korea?

Besieged by scandal, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has conceded her power to name a new prime minister.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
Members of South Korea's minor opposition Justice Party hold their cards during a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.

Amid international scrutiny of her relationship with a controversial religious figure and his daughter, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has conceded her power to name her own prime minister, subsequently diminishing her authority to govern in an attempt to remain in office as opponents push for her resignation.

The scandal has rocked South Korea for the past week as investigators have launched inquiries into the extent of Ms. Park's relationship to Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of the founder of an obscure religious group known as the Church of Eternal Life. Ms. Choi has been allowed to play a role in writing Park’s speeches and assist with public relations. Choi then used their close relationship for political gain, getting her daughter admitted to a prestigious university and pressuring business to donate some $70 million to her nonprofits.

Park met with the National Assembly’s speaker Tuesday after a weekend of protests to announce her concession. By agreeing to work alongside a prime minister named from a lower authority, she will concedes some power in decision making. But lawmakers are pushing to erode her authority further, asking that she yield her power in domestic affairs and focus solely on foreign policy for the remainder of her term.

"If a new prime minister takes office, I will fully guarantee the authority to take charge of the Cabinet in a practical manner," she said.

The leaders of the nation’s three opposition parties have not yet accepted the proposal.

The scandal has seriously hampered the people’s trust of Park, whose approval ratings dipped to just 5 percent at the end of last week as crowds rallied and demanded her resignation. As investigations continue into the scope of Choi’s influence and what kinds of classified information she may have had access to, the administration hopes that the restructuring of Park’s role will put the government back on track.

Park had nominated a new prime minister who was awaiting confirmation last week, but it’s likely the candidate, Kim Byong-joon, will withdraw amid growing concerns. The government has debated ways to make the office a more powerful position over the years, as past prime ministers have served roles that were largely a formality, and some see this as a much needed opportunity to restructure the role.

Park’s opponents have stressed that her announcement isn’t final, and questions remain in regard to how much authority she would relinquish in the process. Many have requested her resignation and do not believe splicing her authority and relegating some aspects to a new prime minister will be enough.

"Nothing was decided during the floor leaders' meeting because the President failed to go into detail about the transfer of her authority; rather, we agreed to hold a meeting between three opposition parties today," Floor leader Park Jie-won of the People's Party said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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