South Korean lawmakers on Friday passed an impeachment motion against President Park Geun-Hye, stripping away her sweeping executive powers over a corruption scandal that paralysed her administration and triggered massive street protests.
The National Assembly motion -- passed by 234 votes to 56 -- transfers Park’s authority to the prime minister, pending a decision by the Constitutional Court on whether to ratify the decision and permanently remove the president from office.
The push for impeachment was driven by huge protests that saw 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.
As the lawmakers voted, hundred of protesters gathered outside the national assembly, holding banners that read: “Give our country back” and “Impeach Park”.
“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.
The scandal that has engulfed Park has focused on her friendship with long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil.
Choi has been charged with meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate around $70 million to two foundations she controlled.
In a first for a sitting South Korean president, Park has been named a “suspect” by prosecutors investigating the case.
History of corruption
High-level corruption has long been a stain on South Korea’s democratic credentials and the presidential Blue House is no stranger to allegations of cronyism.
Since South Korea’s first free and fair election in 1987, every president has faced graft investigations after leaving office and one -- Roh Moo-Hyun -- committed suicide as a corruption probe closed in on his family.
Their cases often involved family members who were able to leverage links to the president in a society where political influence has traditionally had a very close and unhealthy rapport with business success.
Park, the daughter of military strongman Park Chung-Hee who led the country from 1961 to 1979, was meant to be different.
Both her parents were assassinated and, estranged from her two siblings, unmarried and childless, she promoted herself as invulnerable to nepotism.
“I have no family to look after nor children to inherit my property... I want to devote myself to the nation and the people,” she said in a speech during the 2012 presidential campaign.