South Korea lawmakers set impeachment vote in motion
South Korea’s parliament on Thursday introduced an impeachment motion against President Park Geun-Hye, ahead of a vote seeking her ouster over a corruption scandal that has riveted the country and paralysed her administration.
The motion, which accuses Park of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people’s lives to bribery and abuse of power, will be put to a full vote of the National Assembly on Friday.
If adopted, it will go to the Constitutional Court for final approval which, if granted, would result in Park becoming the first democratically elected South Korean president not to complete her full five-year term.
Park has said she would accept a parliamentary decision to impeach her, but also that she would remain in office while the motion is being considered by the court — a process that could take months.
The passage to impeachment has been a fitful one, and to a large extent driven by massive protests that have seen millions take to the streets of Seoul and other cities in recent weeks, demanding political parties remove Park if she refuses to step down.
– Public pressure –
The public pressure has been crucial in pressuring enough members of Park’s Saenuri Party to support the opposition-sponsored motion and provide the two-thirds majority required for adoption.
When it was filed last week, the motion carried the 171 signatures of all opposition and independent lawmakers — leaving it 29 short of the majority needed to clear the 300-seat chamber.
An anti-Park faction within the Saenuri party — numbering more than 30 MPs — has repeatedly hedged its options, but now looks set to support the motion, especially after party whips said members could vote according to their conscience.
“Since it’s an anonymous vote, you never know until you open the lid,” said Kang Sun-A, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Democratic Party.
“We are not making any predictions, but we are pushing ahead with the impeachment motion since it is the will of the people,” Kang said.
The move to impeach is the result of a scandal centered on Park’s relationship with a long-time friend and confidante, Choi Soon-Sil.
– President as ‘suspect’ –
Choi is now awaiting trial on charges of fraud and abuse of power, and, in a first for a sitting president, prosecutors have named Park a suspect in the case.
Choi is specifically accused of meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate tens of millions of dollars to two dubious foundations she controlled.
In drawing up the motion, the opposition tagged on other accusations against Park, aside from the role she allegedly played in abetting Choi’s activities.
In particular, they have dragged up a long-running controversy over Park’s reaction to the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014 that claimed more than 300 lives — most of them children.
Questions have been raised over Park’s activities during a seven-hour period after she was initially informed of the Sewol incident and before her first appearance at an official meeting to discuss the government’s response.
– Shamans and hairdressers –
Unconfirmed media reports have suggested an astonishing range of theories about Park’s whereabouts, including a romantic liaison, participation in a shamanistic ritual, cosmetic surgery or, most recently, a 90-minute haircut.
The presidential Blue House has denied all of them, but failed to provide a detailed schedule of the president’s actual movements at the time.
The impeachment motion says Park failed to respond adequately to the Sewol sinking, in violation of her constitutional duty to protect the lives of Korean citizens.
The Saenuri Party, including the Park dissenters, had voiced opposition to that article being included, but the Democratic Party insisted it would remain.
“We’ve made it clear that there will be absolutely no corrections,” Kang said. “All negotiations ended yesterday and we said there will be no revisions to the clause about the Sewol ferry.”