South Korea's leader proposes revising presidential system

South Korea's president on Monday proposed revising the country's constitution, which limits leaders to a single five-year term. Critics immediately called it an attempt to divert attention from corruption scandals involving her associates.

President Park Geun-hye's office said there was no possibility that she would use the constitutional amendment to extend her rule or run for office again. Park pledged during her presidential campaign four years ago to try to change the system.

South Korea adopted the current system in 1987, ending decades of military-backed dictatorships, including one by Park's father, Park Chung-hee. Under the current system, a president is barred by law from seeking a second term. Park's five-year term ends in early 2018.

Park said in a speech before parliament that the current system makes it difficult for the government to maintain a continuity of its policies, including those dealing with rival North Korea, which regularly threatens nuclear war against its southern rival.

Park said her government would launch an organization to create a draft revision.

Park's proposal came as her approval ratings have dropped to new lows amid allegations that a purported longtime confidant used her connection to Park to push companies to make massive contributions to set up two non-profit foundations. Park has also faced a separate corruption scandal involving a senior aide.

The main liberal opposition party issued a statement criticizing Park's proposal, saying it won't take part in any discussions on a constitutional change that appears meant to distract from the scandals.

"What matters is the timing. Why does President Park propose a constitutional change at a time when she faces so many problems (involving her associates)?" said Kim Sung-Joo, an honorary professor at Seoul's Sungkyunkwan University.

Talk of amending the constitution is a divisive issue in South Korea. There are camps that favor a parliamentary Cabinet system or a U.S.-style system in which a president can have a second four-year term, or a system in which a president and a prime minister split key state responsibilities.