South Korean lawmakers impeach scandal-hit president Park
SEOULSouth Korean lawmakers on Dec. 9 impeached President Park Geun-hye, a stunning and swift fall for the country’s first female leader amid protests that drew millions into the streets in united fury.
Members of parliament voted by a higher-than-expected 234 in favor and 56 opposed in the secret ballot, meaning more than 60 of Park’s own conservative Saenuri Party members backed the motion to remove her.
The votes of least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass.
After the vote, parliamentary officials hand-delivered formal documents to the presidential Blue House that stripped Park of her power and allowed her No. 2, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, to assume leadership until the country’s Constitutional Court rules on whether Park must permanently step down. The court has up to six months to decide.
“I’d like to say that I’m deeply sorry to the people because the nation has to experience this turmoil because of my negligence and lack of virtue at a time when our security and economy both face difficulties,” Park said at a Cabinet meeting after the vote.
Once called the “Queen of Elections” for her ability to pull off wins for her party, Park has been surrounded in the Blue House in recent weeks by millions of South Koreans who have taken to the streets in protest. They are furious over what prosecutors say was collusion by Park with a longtime friend to extort money from companies and to give that confidante extraordinary sway over government decisions.
Organizers said about 10,000 people gathered in front of the National Assembly to demand that lawmakers pass the impeachment motion. Some had spent the night on the streets after traveling from other cities.
Scuffles broke out between angry anti-Park farmers, some of whom had driven tractors to the assembly from their farms, and police. When impeachment happened, many of those gathered raised their hands in the air and leapt about, cheering and laughing.
“Can you hear the roar of the people in front of the National Assembly? We need to overcome the old establishment and create a new Republic of Korea by passing [the impeachment motion],” Kim Kwan-young, an opposition lawmaker said ahead of the vote, referring to South Korea’s formal name.
“Our great people have already opened the way. Let’s make it so we can stand honorably in front of history and our descendants.”
The handover of power prompted the prime minister to order South Korea’s defense minister to put the military on a state of heightened readiness to brace for any potential provocation by North Korea. No suspicious movements by the North were reported, however.
Park will be formally removed from office if at least six of the Constitutional Court’s nine justices support her impeachment, and the country would then hold a presidential election within 60 days.
Present for the vote were relatives of the victims of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 and was blamed in part on government incompetence and corruption; they cheered and clapped after the impeachment was announced. Most lawmakers left the hall quietly, though some could be seen taking selfies as they waited to vote.
Lawmakers from both parties faced huge pressure to act against Park, the daughter of a military dictator still revered by many conservatives for lifting the country from poverty in the 1960s and 1970s.
South Korean lawmakers last voted to impeach a president in 2004, when they accused late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun of minor election law violations and incompetence. The Constitutional Court restored Roh’s powers about two months later, ruling that his wrongdoings weren’t serious enough to justify his unseating.
The chances of the court reinstating Park are considered low because her charges are much graver. Some legal experts say the court might need more than a couple of months to decide. This is because Park’s case is much more complicated than Roh’s, and because her lawyers will likely press the court not to uphold the impeachment unless the suspicions against her are proven.