Admitting that he has lost confidence in his ability to rule after shaken by a string of financial scandals involving close aides, the president told parliament he would quit if the vote went against him.

"I reached a situation which I cannot conduct the presidency," he said. " I have no confidence in doing my job under this situation."

Roh, who was elected for a single five-year term in December last year, said he would hold a fresh presidential election together with April's parliamentary election if he lost the referendum.

"I reached a situation which I cannot conduct the presidency"

Roh Moo-hyun
South Korean President

Roh's current term normally would have lasted till 2008.

"I believe the referendum is proper. This is not without legal disputes, but if we achieve a political agreement, a referendum should be possible under current law," Roh said.

The latest row to embroil Roh involves Choi Do-sul, a confidante of 20 years who was named by prosecutors as having received funds from the scandal-tainted SK Group, shortly after last year's presidential elections.