Vote To Impeach South Korea's President Expected This Week
The next few days could be significant for South Korea's political future, as an impeachment vote is set for Friday to begin a process of removing the embattled president from office. President Park Geun-hye has been mired in a complicated influence peddling scandal that's brought on weeks of political paralysis and record-sized protests in the streets of Seoul.
"We need to get her out of the Blue House," demonstrator Woosuk Lee said, referring to South Korea's presidential residence and office.
Weeks of pressure and mounting public dissatisfaction have driven Park's approval ratings to an unprecedented low of 4 percent. Last week, she offered to step down at some point, if lawmakers agreed to the terms.
"I will delegate the opinion to decide on my shortening of the term to the National Assembly," Park said, the third time since October she made public remarks about the corruption scandal now threatening her grip on power.
A vague, conditional resignation isn't good enough, according to a vast majority of South Koreans surveyed in public opinion polls and judging by the hundreds of thousands who showed up in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square on Saturday.
"Many people want her to step down right now but she doesn't. That's the big problem right now," demonstrator Kwak Sung-hee said.
Park is in this situation after admitting she shared government documents and advance speeches with a close confidante — who had no official position. The friend, Choi Soonsil, is now accused by prosecutors of using her ties to the president to extort nearly $70 million from South Korean companies. Prosecutors say they believe the president was an accomplice in the pay-for-play schemes and Park is being investigated as a criminal suspect for abuse of power.
"Park Geun-hye is a symbol at this point, carrying around a lot of things that are wrong with Korea," says Ryan Song, a law professor at Seoul's Kyunghee University. Song says even though she has a year left in her term, Park's work is done — whether she leaves by resignation, impeachment, or somehow serves out her term.
"In terms of legitimacy, in terms of possibility of getting back to power to carry out her policies ... She was going into a lame-duck period, at this point it's a dead duck," Song says.
On the streets, demonstrators believe a quick exit will, at the very least, stop the political paralysis from dragging out any longer. Lee Sang-ki says things couldn't possibly get worse than they are now.
"I think anyone who comes after her will do a better job than Park Geun-hye," Lee says.
Lawmakers are slated to vote on a motion to impeach on December 9. On Monday, a band of lawmakers from Park's ruling party — the one she helped found — announced they, too, would support impeachment instead of allowing Park to step down. If two-thirds of the Korean National Assembly votes for the motion, a panel of court justices will then decide whether to remove Park from office.
Haeryun Kang contributed to this story.