SEOUL – South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s powers have been suspended on Friday (Dec 9), after lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to impeach her over an influence peddling scandal that has rocked the nation.
Ms Park, in an afternoon meeting with the Cabinet, said she will remain calm and wait for the final decision to be made by the Constitutional Court. Until then, she urged Cabinet members to do their best to "minimise a political vacuum", with national interest in mind.
“I am so sorry for all South Koreans that I created this national chaos with my carelessness when our country faces so many difficulties, from the economy to national defence,” Ms Park said in a televised statement after the impeachment.
The country's 300-member parliament voted 234-56 for an impeachment motion submitted last Saturday, seven weeks after Ms Park was first accused of allowing her close friend Choi Soon Sil to meddle in state affairs.
Prosecutors later said Ms Park colluded with Choi to extort money from conglomerates. Choi has been indicted for charges including abuse of authority.
Opposition and independent lawmakers, who hold 172 seats in parliament, managed to get 62 votes from Ms Park's ruling Saenuri party to push the motion through to the Constitutional Court, which can take up to six months to decide whether it will uphold the impeachment.
Two lawmakers abstained while there were seven spoilt votes. One lawmaker declined to cast his ballot.
Ms Park, 64, is the second head of state to be impeached by the parliament - the late Roh Moo Hyun was impeached in 2004 for illegal electioneering but was restored to power 63 days later.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, whose role is largely ceremonial, will be acting President in the interim.
If the Constitutional Court upholds parliament's decision, Ms Park, the daughter of late authoritarian leader Park Chung Hee, will become the country’s first democratically-elected leader to be removed from office before the end of her term.
The next presidential elections will then be held within 60 days.
The latest poll by Gallup Korea shows a tie between the two most popular potential candidates - United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon and opposition leader Moon Jae In. Each is favoured by 20 per cent of respondents.
Following close behind is Seongnam mayor Lee Jae Myung, with 18 per cent of votes.