Seoul: South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, once known as the “Queen of Elections”, faced an act of attempted political regicide today as lawmakers gathered to vote on a motion calling for her impeachment.
Engulfed by a corruption scandal that has transfixed the nation and paralysed her administration, Park must now confront the prospect of going down as the first democratically-elected South Korean president to be kicked out of office.
If the motion is adopted, it would result in the immediate suspension of Park’s substantial executive powers and their transfer to her prime minister.
She would be allowed to retain her title pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court which has up to six months to decide whether or not to ratify the impeachment and formally end her presidency.
Whichever way the vote goes, it has been a startling fall from grace for a politician who had run for the presidential Blue House as an incorruptible candidate, declaring herself beholden to nobody and “married to the nation”.
The opposition-sponsored impeachment motion accuses Park of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people’s lives to bribery and abuse of power.
It was filed last week with the 171 signatures of all opposition and independent lawmakers — leaving it 29 short of the two-thirds majority needed to clear the 300-seat chamber.
Its passage will depend on the backing of an anti-Park faction within the Saenuri party — more than 30 MPs who have shifted position several times but now look set to back Park’s ouster.
The entire opposition has threatened to resign their seats immediately if the motion is defeated.
“This impeachment is a road to salvation for the country and the people,” said Chu Mi-Ae, president of the main opposition Democratic Party.
The push for impeachment has been driven by massive protests that have seen millions take to the streets of Seoul and other cities in recent weeks, demanding that political parties remove Park if she refuses to step down.
The fact that today’s manual paper ballot is anonymous has fuelled speculation that some lawmakers who pledged a “yes” vote in line with public opinion, may in fact vote against.
“It’s really hard to predict which way the vote will go,” Saenuri legislator Hong Moon-Jong told MBC radio.
“It may fall slightly short of 200 or just scrape over the line,” Hong said.