Saenuri scrambles as Park’s approval at record low

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Saenuri scrambles as Park’s approval at record low

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The ruling party was thrown into a state of panic after President Park Geun-hye’s approval ratings dropped to an all-time low below 40 percent, resulting from recent political scandals involving power dealing in the Blue House.

Realmeter polls released on Monday showed the president’s approval rating at 39.7 percent, down 6.6 percentage points since last week. And more than half, 52.1 percent of respondents, didn’t believe Park was doing a good job.

This is the first time her Realmeter approval ratings have dipped into the 30s since her inauguration in February 2013.

The Realmeter survey polled 2,500 Korean adults nationwide between Dec. 8 and Friday.

The drop follows an exclusive report on Nov. 28 by the Segye Ilbo that revealed the details of a leaked internal Blue House document, which stated that Chung Yoon-hoi, a former aide to the president during her days as a lawmaker, had led a secret 10-member faction that included three of the president’s key secretaries, in a bid to influence state affairs.

He is also accused of serving as a power broker in backroom string-pulling operations at the presidential office.

The ruling Saenuri Party fears Park’s approval ratings will only continue to tumble as the scandal snowballs.

Park Ji-man, the younger brother of the president and chairman of EG Group, was summoned by prosecutors on Monday to be questioned over the leak. Park and Chung are also rumored to have been involved in a power struggle.

President Park managed to pull in a 43 percent approval rating in late June during heightened controversy surrounding her appointment of Moon Chang-keuk, a former JoongAng Ilbo editor, as her prime ministerial nominee.

Moon stepped down over criticism that he was a Japanese sympathizer, a view that was based on previous remarks he made while working as a journalist.

He was Park’s second choice after Ahn Dae-hee, a prosecutor turned lawyer, who walked away from the nomination after he was accused of excessively profiting from his legal practice after retiring from the Supreme Court.

And even in the aftermath of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, when the government was lambasted for its inefficiency in handling the accident, her approval ratings still stayed above the 40s.

Just three weeks ago, Park’s approval rating was at 50 percent.

The ruling Saenuri Party also saw its approval rating plummet to 38.9 percent, dipping 3.7 percentage points compared to the past week, according to the poll. It was the lowest since May, in the wake of the Sewol.

By contrast, approval ratings for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) increased by 0.2 percentage point to 22.9 percent.

On Tuesday, Saenuri Party leaders attended a floor leaders’ meeting at the National Assembly but were cautious not to respond to allegations over backroom string-pulling in the Blue House, saying only that it was an issue that needed to be referred to a parliamentary provisional session.

Lee Wan-koo, the Saenuri floor leader, said that the “issue has to be approached with caution,” otherwise, “it can have a deadly effect despite intentions.”

On Monday, the NPAD’s interim Chairman Moon Hee-sang said at a National Assembly meeting that the “[The Park administration, which will soon] enter into its third year in power, needs to put everything on the line and carry out large-scale governmental reform, reorganizing the Blue House and completely reshuffling the Cabinet.”

Realmeter CEO Lee Taek-su attributed the poll results to recent developments in the scandal and other current events.

“Over the weekend, Lieutenant Choi, who was being investigated for leaking the [Blue House] document, committed suicide, and [President Park’s] younger brother, the chairman of EG Group, Park Ji-man, also was summoned by prosecutors,” he said.

Other contributing factors include the controversy surrounding Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah, whose outrageous behavior on an Incheon-bound flight over the way her macadamia nuts were served made international headlines, as well as the police’s raid on Korean-American Shin Eun-mi, who is accused of making sympathetic remarks about North Korea on her talk show.

“These factors seemed to have [also] contributed to the ratings decline,” Lee said.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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