South Korea PM to be briefed on state affairs after President Park impeached

Protesters carry an effigy of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye during a rally demanding her arrest near the presidential house in Seoul.
Protesters carry an effigy of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye during a rally demanding her arrest near the presidential house in Seoul.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) – South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn will begin getting official briefings from aides of President Park Geun Hye on Monday (Dec 12), having assumed presidential authority in a caretaker role following her impeachment by Parliament last week.

Mr Hwang has sought to calm anxiety over national security and to reassure financial markets while Ms Park’s presidency is held in limbo pending the outcome of a Constitutional Court review of her impeachment, which may take up to 180 days.

Until then, Ms Park will remain in the presidential Blue House a few blocks north of the main government complex where Mr Hwang’s office is located.

Eight of the Constitutional Court’s nine judges met on Monday to discuss how to proceed with the case but has not set dates for public hearings, its spokesman Bae Bo Yoon, told a briefing. The ninth was away from the country on business.

At least six of the nine judges have to concur for the motion to be upheld.

The court will next week decide on the date for the two sides’ lawyers to appear for a preliminary hearing, he said.

Ms Park, whose father ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a 1961 coup, has been accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide, both of whom have been indicted, to pressure big businesses to donate to foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

She has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with her friend, Choi Soon Sil.

Ms Park has yet to announce her defence team, which is expected to be made up of at least four lawyers, including an attorney she retained last month.

Ms Park’s term was set to end in February 2018. If the court upholds her impeachment, she will become the first elected South Korean leader to be ejected from office in disgrace.

If that were to happen, a new election would be held within 60 days to pick a successor who will serve a full five-year term.

Mr Hwang will get briefings from senior presidential secretaries on foreign policy, judicial, personnel and economic affairs on Monday and Tuesday, the Blue House said, giving no further details.

Mr Hwang has chaired a National Security Council meeting, met the Cabinet twice and visited the military headquarters since assuming presidential powers late on Friday.

He was expected to keep Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho to ensure continuity of policy instead of replacing him with the head of the financial regulator, who Ms Park last month had designated as his replacement, Yonhap news agency reported.

On Sunday, state prosecutors charged two more former senior officials as part of their investigation of a corruption scandal that has led to Ms Park’s impeachment and the indictment of former aides and Choi.

Ms Park herself has immunity from indictment while she is in office but could face prosecution if she is removed.

The scandal erupted in October and has drawn large street protests in Seoul for the past seven Saturdays, with the crowds calling for Ms Park to step down immediately.

On Monday, South Korean shares opened at their highest level since Oct  25 as investors felt some uncertainty was cleared up after the impeachment vote. But modest gains were quickly erased due to prospects of a US  interest rate increase this week.