South Korea’s parliament to vote on Park impeachment

For motion to pass 28 parliamentarians from president’s own party must vote against her

A protester shouts slogans in front of a caricature of Park Geun-Hye during a rally urging  impeachment  on December 7th. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Gety Images

A protester shouts slogans in front of a caricature of Park Geun-Hye during a rally urging impeachment on December 7th. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Gety Images

 

South Korea’s National Assembly will vote on a Bill to impeach troubled president Park Geun-hye on Friday after a corruption and influence peddling scandal that has rocked the country.

South Korea’s opposition parties filed the Bill last week, saying Ms Park had violated the constitution and other laws by allowing her confidante Choi Soon-sil “to exert power in state affairs and enjoy unlawful benefits.”

Ms Choi has already been indicted by state prosecutors, who accuse Ms Park of colluding with her friend of 40 years.

A poll by the Real Meter group has found that 78.2 per cent of South Koreans approved of the impeachment motion, up 2.9 percentage points from a week earlier.

Millions of Koreans have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to call for Ms Park to step down. Her approval rating is at an all-time low of four per cent.

The motion needs the approval of at least 200 lawmakers from the 300-seat National Assembly, which means 28 parliamentarians from Ms Park’s conservative Saenuri Party must vote against her.

Opposition confident

The opposition is confident of winning the vote, and a group of Saenuri lawmakers say they have around 40 votes, but the outcome remains uncertain.

According to the Yonhap news agency, the anonymous vote is scheduled to take place at 3pm local time (6am Irish time) on Friday during a parliamentary session.

Ms Park’s fate will ultimately be decided by the country’s constitutional court, which will review the decision.

The constitutional court proceedings could take up to 180 days. Ms Park has said she will “calmly” wait for the constitutional court’s review, effectively ruling out the possibility she will step down of her own volition.

Arrest

Ms Choi was arrested in November, accused of using her relationship with the president to acquire 77.4 billion won (€62million) in donations for various charities she set up, by putting pressure on some of South Korea’s biggest “chaebols” or industrial conglomerates.

These include carmaker Hyundai, retail giant Lotte, steelmaker Posco and telecom giant KT, many of whom have been questioned by prosecutors in recent weeks.

Ms Choi apologised and said she had committed a “deadly sin”.

2014 ferry sinking

As well as the corruption charges, a key issue has been Ms Park’s whereabouts for seven unexplained hours on the day of the Sewol ferry sinking in April 2014.

Two and a half years on, the country is still reeling from the disaster, which left more than 300 passengers, mostly young students, dead or missing.

Ms Park is accused of having her hair done and of receiving beauty treatments, including placenta injections and other controversial treatments, on the day of the accident.

The opposition claims Ms Park failed to protect the safety of the people as stipulated by the constitution and have included her handling of the disaster as one of the grounds for Ms Park’s impeachment.

The dissenting members of the ruling Saenuri Party say they will back her impeachment, but only if the Sewol disaster is not included in the Bill. The main opposition Democratic Party said it has no intention of leaving the disaster out of the motion.

Opposition parliamentarians have pledged to resign en masse if the impeachment fails to pass the parliament on Friday.

Ms Park’s friendship with Ms Choi, a former aide who became her spiritual adviser, is a long and murky one, which some commentators have labelled “Rasputin-like”.

It dates back to the time when Ms Park served was forced to stand in as first lady after her mother Yook Young-soo, was killed in 1974 by a bullet intended for her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee.

Five years later, in 1979, her father was murdered in 1979 by his disgruntled spy chief.

Ms Choi succeeded her father Choi Tae-min as leader of the Church of Eternal Life cult. Her father would tell the young Ms Park in the 1970s that he could talk to her dead mother.