South Korean President Moon Jae-in temporarily suspended the country's prosecutor general this week, the latest move in a row that has sent the president's ratings to record lows and threatens to derail his ambitious reform agenda for the rest of his term.
In October, Moon's justice minister - citing multiple counts of legal and political misconduct - sought to fire Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl, who had opposed Moon's plans and had been investigating several of his allies.
On Wednesday, a Justice Ministry disciplinary council tasked with reviewing that decision recommended that Yoon be suspended for two months, a move that Moon officially approved late in the day.
Yoon has denied any wrongdoing and called the decision an "illegal, unjust measure" to oust him. His lawyer said he plans to file an injunction with a court on Thursday to halt the move.Moon apologised having to penalise Yoon but pledged to push ahead with his reform agenda. The parliament passed a bill last week to launch a new agency to take over high-level investigations from prosecutors.
"I accept with a heavy heart that we had come to the unprecedented crisis to take disciplinary action against the prosecutor-general. I am sorry," Moon said, according to his senior press secretary Chung Man-ho.
Combined with sky-rocketing home prices and resurgent coronavirus outbreaks, the controversy helped send Moon's approval ratings to their lowest levels since he took office in 2017 for a single, five-year term.
Yoon's popularity, meanwhile, has soared, with various polls showing him as a top presidential contender for the 2022 election.
A survey released on Thursday by pollster Realmeter showed Moon's disapproval ratings hit another fresh high. Nearly 50% of respondents said Yoon's suspension was too harsh, whereas some 41% said it was appropriate or light.
Yoon had not publicly expressed his willingness to enter politics, but said in October that he would "see how he can serve society and the people after retiring."