UPDATE: 10:55 p.m. EST — In a bid to placate opposition leaders, South Korean President Park Geun-hye Tuesday agreed to allow lawmakers to pick the next prime minister, withdrawing her nominee, Kim Byong-joon, chief policy advisor to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, Yonhap News Agency reported.
"If the National Assembly recommends a new premier, I will appoint him and let him control the Cabinet," Park said during a visit to National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.
South Korean prosecutors Tuesday raided the headquarters of Samsung Electronics in Seoul as part of an investigation into an influence-peddling scandal involving a long-time friend of President Park Geun-hye.
The scandal has plunged Park’s government into turmoil as her approval rating has fallen to a record-low 5 percent amid calls for her resignation.
Yonhap News Agency reported Samsung may have provided illicit favors to the daughter of Park confidante Choi Soon-sil, including providing $3 million to fund equestrian training in Germany for Choi’s daughter.
Prosecutors said they are looking for evidence related to Samsung’s dealings with the Korea Equestrian Federation, which may have changed regulations to benefit Choi’s daughter, Choi Tae-min. Both the federation and the Korea Horse Affairs Association also were raided, Reuters reported.
Choi, 60, the daughter of a religious cult leader, is accused of using her association with Park to interfere with security and economic policy despite a lack of official position or security clearance.
Park, the first woman elected president, has apologized for the scandal twice, admitting she allowed Choi to edit her speeches. Park’s term is to last until 2018. No South Korean president ever has resigned in office.
The scandal has touched off protests by tens of thousands of South Koreans.
Choi, who was arrested Thursday, faces charges of abuse of power and fraud. A former aide is accused of abuse of power and extortion. The two allegedly helped raise $68 million from dozens of South Korean conglomerates on behalf of two foundations Choi controlled.
Samsung’s corporate relations chief heads the Korea Equestrian Federation, and his office was among those raided, Yonhap reported. The raid comes as the electronics giant is still reeling from the Note 7 debacle and followed word another Samsung phone, the Galaxy J5, also exploded.
Korea Times quoted experts as saying Park has lost control of the government.
"President Park has lost authority as a head of state," Choi Chang-ryul, a professor of political science at Yongin University, told Korea Times. "Amid tens of thousands of citizens calling for Park to resign, it seems she will find it very hard to earn the trust of other heads of state as well."
Choi said the focus should be on calming angry citizens, not focusing on possible aggression by the North.
Opposition leaders have demanded Park agree to their choice prime minister, withdrawing her nominee, before they will discuss a solution to the crisis.