South Korea political crisis hits Park rating, consumer confidence

November 24, 2016 8:36 PM EST

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during an address to the nation, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ed Jones


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By Ju-min Park and Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye's approval rating fell to 4 percent amid a deepening political crisis, marking an all-time low for any democratically elected leader in the country, according to an opinion poll released on Friday.

Fears of policy-making paralysis prompted by the political crisis also dealt a blow to consumer confidence, which fell to its lowest in more than seven years in November, South Korea's central bank said.

Park's presidency has been rocked by allegations that a close friend used her ties to the leader to meddle in state affairs and wield improper influence. Prosecutors investigating the case have indicted her friend, Choi Soon-sil, and are seeking to question the president about her role in the scandal.

Park's approval rating slipped one percentage point after hovering at 5 percent for three consecutive weeks, while her disapproval rating rose three percentage points to 93 percent, according to a poll by Gallup Korea showed.

Gallup Korea, based in Seoul, is not affiliated with U.S.-based Gallup, Inc.

Choi was indicted along with a former presidential aide on Sunday on charges of colluding with Park to pressure companies to contribute funds to two foundations controlled by Choi.

South Korean investigators have since widened their anti-graft probe into Park's aides and businesses, raiding the offices of Samsung Group, South Korea's largest family-run conglomerate, and Lotte Group this week.

Mass protests against Park over the past four weekends have been the biggest public demonstrations seen in South Korea since the 1980s.

On Saturday, more than a million people are expected to gather again, including about a thousand farmers, raising concerns of a clash with police trying to prevent the crowd from marching on the presidential Blue House.

DOOM AND GLOOM

Park, whose five-year term ends in February 2018, has apologized twice over the affair but is resisting calls for her resignation. Even some members of her ruling Saenuri Party have said she should step down, but she would risk losing immunity against prosecution if she did.

Meantime, opposition parties are canvassing for support to impeach her. While the opposition parties control parliament, they would have to garner votes from Park's own party to secure the two-thirds majority needed to pass a motion to impeach her.

Some media have reported that could well happen.

The political turmoil has exacerbated fraying business confidence in Asia's fourth largest economy, which is already suffering from slowing growth and rising household debt.

"This is a serious problem because companies are delaying all their business decisions due to political uncertainties,” Hansung University economics Professor Kim Sang-jo said. "All policymaking seems to be in pause."

South Korea's export-driven firms are also worried by the potential impact of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's protectionist stance on trade issues.

The Bank of Korea is due to publish its next business confidence survey next week, but a consumer confidence survey released on Friday showed South Koreans were at their most gloomiest in 7 1/2 years.

(Editing Jack Kim, Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore)



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