Accessibility links

South Korean President Rejects Cabinet Offer to Resign Amid Leadership Crisis - 2003-10-11

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has rejected his cabinet's offer to resign amid a crisis over his leadership. President Roh also has hinted he could step down if a national referendum shows he has lost the confidence of South Korean citizens.

President Roh has rejected the resignation of his cabinet and top aides during a nationally televised news conference. In addition, President Roh is acknowledging that he might quit if he fails to regain trust in his administration.

Earlier, his cabinet and top advisors had publicly resigned to acknowledge their sense of responsibility for a funding scandal embroiling Mr. Roh's close aide. On Friday, Mr. Roh said he felt responsible for his former secretary's involvement in a contribution scandal linked to the powerful SK Group business conglomerate.

President Roh says he will call for a public debate or referendum to measure the sentiment of South Korean voters before parliamentary elections in April. His statements implied that he is willing to step down if the referendum shows he has lost public trust. Mr. Roh is insisting a positive outcome to the referendum will restore the moral backbone of his government.

The 57-year-old plainspoken former lawyer acknowledged in his Saturday news conference that his impromptu offer to seek reassurance from voters - just eight months into a fixed five-year term - has raised worries about his ability to govern.

President Roh says his powers are being undermined by the opposition-controlled parliament and a hostile news media.

Overnight opinion polls showed more South Koreans want Mr. Roh to continue as president than those who want him out.

The beleaguered leader has seen his approval ratings crash from nearly 80 percent to just more than 20 percent since he won the election in December last year. South Korea's economic slowdown, the lingering North Korean nuclear crisis and corruption allegations aimed at several of Mr. Roh's aides have tormented his administration.

The South Korean president took office in February promising to root out old-style politics involving questionable, if not illegal, campaign and political financing.