Seoul- South Korean lawmakers voted on Friday to impeach President Park Geun-hye over political corruption, setting the stage for her to become the country’s first elected leader to be expelled from office.
Park, 64, is accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide, both of whom have been indicted by prosecutors, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives, reported Reuters.
Park, who is serving a single five-year term that was set to end in February 2018, has denied wrongdoing but apologized for carelessness in her ties with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
The impeachment motion was carried by a wider-than-expect 234-56 margin in a secret ballot in parliament, meaning more than 60 of Park’s own conservative Saenuri Party members backed removing her. The votes of at least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass.
Park, whose approval rating stands at just 5 percent, has resisted demands that she step down immediately.
“I solemnly accept the voice of the parliament and the people and sincerely hope this confusion is soundly resolved,” Park told a Cabinet meeting, adding that she would comply with the court’s proceedings as well as an investigation by a special prosecutor.
Under the constitution, Park’s duties were assumed by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on an interim basis until the court rules.
“I stand here with heavy-hearted sadness,” Hwang said in a televised address. “As an aide to the president, I feel deep responsibility about the situation we have come to face.”
The Constitutional Court must now decide whether to uphold the impeachment, a process that could take up to 180 days.
Anti-Park rallies resume
A day after the parliament’s impeachment vote, Protestors demanding that South Korean President Park Geun-hye step down marched on Saturday for a seventh straight weekend.
The crowd estimated by organizers at 200,000 packing a large square in downtown Seoul was significantly smaller than in recent weeks but festive, with performances of music between speeches calling for the early removal of Park.
“We demand that the Constitutional Court make a decision of conscience and justice and do not act against the will of the people,” Jung Kang-ja, one of the leaders of a coalition of civic groups backing the rally, said in a speech.
For seven consecutive weekends, huge crowds have gathered in central Seoul in demonstrations calling for Park to step down. On Saturday, some restaurants in central Seoul were offering “impeachment discounts,” according to TV channel YTN.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who became acting president late on Friday after the impeachment vote, called on authorities to ensure that rallies are peaceful and sought to calm anxiety over national security and to reassure financial markets.
“So far, financial and foreign exchange markets have been relatively stable and there are no signs of unusual movements by the North, but all public servants should bear vigilance in mind as they conduct their duties,” Hwang told a meeting.