South Korean President Park Geun Hye's fate in hands of rebel lawmakers

Lawmakers and members of the opposition Democratic Party calling for Ms Park's impeachment at the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday.
Lawmakers and members of the opposition Democratic Party calling for Ms Park's impeachment at the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They hold the votes needed to okay a motion to impeach the S. Korean leader

South Korean President Park Geun Hye could have her powers suspended today if a move to impeach her goes through in Parliament, though analysts say the country is likely to remain mired in political uncertainty whatever the result.

Opposition and independent lawmakers, a group of 172, are short of 28 votes to get at least 200 votes to get the motion passed with a two-thirds majority. The key lies in a group of 40 anti-Park legislators in the ruling Saenuri party, who have been flip-flopping on their stance, but said yesterday they would support the motion.

Analysts say the motion will most likely be passed, but warned that either outcome could create more chaos instead of resolving the current crisis, with the ruling and opposition parties remaining split on what is the best way forward.

Korea University's political science professor Lee Nae Young believes the vote will go through.

"If impeachment fails, public anger and dissatisfaction will be heightened and people will protest even more strongly. There will be more instability and chaos," he told The Straits Times.

But even if the motion passes, it can take the Constitutional Court up to six months to make a final decision, and there could be division between the opposition and acting President, he added.

 

President Park herself was silent yesterday. One of her spokesmen told ST she did not attend any official function nor give any message to her staff.

Ms Park, 64, is the second president to face parliamentary impeachment - the late Mr Roh Moo Hyun was impeached in 2004 on charges of illegal electioneering, but the Constitutional Court ruled against it and restored him to power.

If Ms Park's impeachment goes through, she will be the first democratically elected South Korean president not to complete her five-year term. South Korea's first female president took office in 2013 but later saw her popularity decline over her handling of incidents like the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014.

But the crisis that caused her approval ratings to plunge to a record low of 4 per cent was the influence-peddling scandal involving her close friend Choi Soon Sil.

Choi has been indicted for charges including abuse of authority, and prosecutors said Ms Park "colluded" with her to extort money from conglomerates for two foundations.

If Ms Park is suspended, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn would take over her duties. But the opposition bloc feels the whole Park administration should take responsibility for the scandal and resign.

"People will not accept Hwang as acting president," said the opposition Democratic Party chairman Choo Mi Ae. "We should discuss forming an interim Cabinet or replacing the Prime Minister."

The Democratic Party, as well as the smaller People's Party and Justice Party, have all threatened to resign en mass if impeachment fails.

The country's 300 legislators will vote around 2pm local time (1pm Singapore time), and the decision will be announced within two hours. A survey by local pollster Realmeter yesterday showed that 78.2 per cent of 1,511 respondents supported impeachment.

Protesters started gathering in front of the National Assembly building yesterday. A rally is expected this morning, to pressure legislators to vote for impeachment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Park's fate in hands of rebel lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe