South Korea begins president impeachment vote

  • 09/12/2016
Protesters chant slogans during a rally demanding the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye (Reuters)
Protesters chant slogans during a rally demanding the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye (Reuters)

South Korean lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to impeach President Park Geun-hye over an influence-peddling scandal, setting the stage for her to become the country's first elected leader to be pushed from office in disgrace.

Members of parliament voted on Friday by a higher-than-expected 234 in favour and 56 opposed in the secret ballot, meaning more than 60 of Park's own conservative Saenuri Party members backed the motion to remove her.

The votes of least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass.

As hundreds of protesters massed in front of the National Assembly building, lawmakers inside lined up to enter curtained voting rooms, where they recorded their anonymous votes and then emerged and put their folded ballots in boxes.

"Can you hear the roar of the people in front of the National Assembly? We need to overcome the old establishment and create a new Republic of Korea by passing [the impeachment bill]," Kim Kwan-young, an opposition lawmaker said ahead of the vote.

Republic of Korea is South Korea's formal name.

"Our great people have already opened the way. Let's make it so we can stand honourably in front of history and our descendants."

Just ahead of the vote, opposition members of parliament sat on the floor and chanted "Impeach" with raised fists.

Once called the "Queen of Elections" for her ability to pull off wins for her party, Ms Park has been surrounded in the presidential Blue House in recent weeks by millions of South Koreans who have taken to the streets in protest.

They are furious over what prosecutors say was collusion by Ms Park with a long-time friend to extort money from companies and to give that confidante extraordinary sway over government decisions.

Park, who is serving a single five-year term that was set to end in February 2018, has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Her approval ratings plunged to 4 per cent below the vote, the lowest among South Korean leaders since democracy came in the late 1980s, and even elderly conservatives who once made up her political base distanced themselves from her.

AP/ Reuters