Thousands of South Koreans have been protesting on the streets of Central Seoul, the country’s capital, calling for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye.
There have been many allegations against the president in recent times but the tipping point that led to the mass protests was the emergence of a woman named Choi Soon-sil, a personal friend of the president.
Choi’s personal relationship with President Park has long been known, dating back around 40 years, however, she came under the spotlight following a string of political graft allegations.
Rumours spread that Choi – who has no official position in the government – had been secretly advising the President on all matters, ranging from her fashion choices to policies on North Korea.
One of South Korea’s local media outlets reported it had discovered a tablet PC left behind by Choi, which contained nearly 200 confidential state documents, including 44 of the president’s speeches.
Under growing speculation that the President’s friend was leading the country behind the scenes, President Park apologised earlier this week over the controversy and acknowledged she sought Choi’s counsel and shared certain internal documents with her in the process.
Since then, calls for the president’s resignation have only intensified nationwide, with the latest poll on Tuesday showing her approval ratings has dropped to an all-time low of 10 per cent.
“This is a failed democracy,” said Jeong Jin-wook, who came out to protest with his wife and four-year-old son.
“We democratically voted in Park Geun-hye but she’s not our president.
Another protester, Lee Young-ha, a young college student who came to the protest with her friends said: “I have to express my anger and I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing.”
Choi is accused of embezzling millions of public money, as well as using her influence as a presidential confidant for private donations.
She is also suspected of using her influence to get her daughter preferential treatment at one of South Korea’s top universities.
Although chants for the president to resign were rampant, many in the crowd also expressed concerns that without a thorough, transparent investigation, they would not be able to root out the problems facing the nation and ensure they will never happen again.
Analysts suggest that if Ms Park resigned or was impeached, there would be a leadership vacuum, which could ultimately hurt the country — especially because it would be more beneficial for the opposition to let Ms Park ride out the rest of her presidency as a humiliated, lame duck leader in order to gain the upper hand in next year’s election.
In an attempt to clean up the situation, President Park has sacked the country’s Prime Minister as well as other top cabinet members and close aides.
Meanwhile, South Korean prosecutors have requested an arrest warrant for Choi who has been in detention since Monday.
She is officially being accused of abuse of authority and attempted fraud.
Eight banks have also been raided in connection with the controversy.