SEOUL • South Korea's Constitutional Court yesterday held its first full hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye but she stayed away from the session.
The nine-judge court must decide whether to affirm Parliament's vote on Dec 9 to impeach Ms Park over a graft scandal which had brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets weekly.
Yesterday's hearing, which followed three preparatory court sessions last month, lasted only nine minutes. The court last week ruled that Ms Park was not required to appear for questioning.
"We will do our best to conduct a fair and thorough review of the case," said Judge Park Han Chul.
The case will proceed regardless of whether Ms Park shows up when the hearing resumes tomorrow.
Her lawyers said she was unlikely to attend future hearings.
Ms Park has been suspended from executive duties and the country is being temporarily led by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn.
The Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether to confirm Ms Park's impeachment.
If it does, a presidential election must be held within two months.
The court has never before ousted a president, though seven of the last eight holders of the office left tainted by allegations of graft.
Whatever the court decides, analysts say, the Park scandal has already put issues such as recurring collusion between big business and government in South Korea under intense scrutiny.
"We created a miracle on the streets," said macroeconomics and development policy professor You Jong Il of Sejong City, referring to the many huge, peaceful street protests last year demanding Ms Park's resignation.
"But we are still very worried about whether we will really be able to change Korean society and Korean politics."
Ms Park is accused of colluding with her close friend Choi Soon Sil to coerce the country's big companies into handing over nearly US$70 million (S$101 million) to dubious foundations which Choi controlled and allegedly plundered.
Choi - dubbed South Korea's "Rasputin" due to her influence over the President - is on trial for coercion and abuse of power.
Several former government and presidential officials have been indicted in the case.
Ms Park has denied the corruption allegations in sometimes tearful televised addresses, while apologising for lapses. She had allegedly ordered aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, as well as let her meddle in state affairs, including the appointment of top officials.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES