Opposition vows to begin impeachment

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Opposition vows to begin impeachment

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President Park Geun-hye shakes hands with her new chief of staff, Han Gwang-ok, right, after granting him a letter of appointment in the Blue House on Friday. Park resumed her official schedule as president, resisting the opposition’s demand for her resignation. [NEWSIS]

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea signaled Friday it will begin an impeachment process, following nationwide street protests Saturday against President Park Geun-hye unless the president voluntarily steps down.

Speaking before reporters at the National Assembly, Minjoo Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae said her party would undertake legal measures to stop presidential power granted to Park if she continues to hold onto power amid a scandal involving influence exerted by her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

“If President Park does not resign from her post,” said the judge-turned-lawmaker, “the Minjoo Party will bring about the legal and political resignation of the president in trilateral joint efforts with other opposition parties.”

The Minjoo chief described the Park administration’s attempt to hold onto power as a “force of evil,” while characterizing public and opposition demands for her resignation as a “force for justice.”

She added, “We will take steps to halt the constitutional rights bestowed upon President Park unless she steps down.”

Choo’s aggressive comment warning of an impeachment process came as the presidential office showed no sign of bowing to growing pressure from both the public and the opposition parties that President Park resign or withdraw herself from state and foreign affairs in the aftermath of the so-called Choi-gate.

Further deploring the Blue House, the veteran lawmaker noted there were rumors about President Park planning to declare martial law to quell protesters, who took out to the streets in numbers that reached one million in the heart of Seoul on Nov. 12 demanding Park out of office.

The three opposition parties - Minjoo, People’s and Justice - command the combined loyalties of 165 lawmakers. A two-thirds vote by the legislature’s 300 lawmakers is required to pass an impeachment motion. There are six independents leaning toward the opposition, which means there is a total of 171 lawmakers who will almost certainly support an impeachment motion.

But this is still 29 votes short, so the opposition needs to win 29 votes from the Saenuri Party’s 129 lawmakers.

The governing party is split down the middle as its pro-Park faction locks horns with the rest of the party, so those 29 votes may be within reach.

If that happens, Park will become the second president in Korean history to be impeached, following former President Roh Moo-hyun, who was impeached 12 years ago for illegal electioneering.

Among the ruling party members, former Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung, who is expected to run for president next year, openly called for the impeachment of his one-time boss.

But even if the motion gets passed, it could take up to 180 days before the Constitutional Court finishes its deliberation on whether President Park should be ousted from office.

To approve of an impeachment motion, seven out of the nine justices on the constitutional bench should cast “yes” votes. Constitutional Chief Justice Park Han-chul and Justice Lee Jung-mi will finish their tenures in January and March next year, which may help Park if she is impeached, since the motion will then be reviewed by the remaining seven justices on the nine-member bench, unless Park appoints their successors.

This will require six out of the seven justices’ vote to finalize her impeachment, since the two absences will be automatically counted as having voted against the impeachment. In Roh’s case, the court rejected his impeachment motion after 64 days.

Despite mounting pressure for her resignation, Park appears determined to stay in power, and on Friday her spokesman told the press that she is planning to attend a trilateral meeting with her Chinese and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo next month. Park is also said to be planning to preside over a cabinet meeting Tuesday, her first one in 42 days.

Park also conferred on Friday official appointment certificates to her newly appointed presidential secretaries, including her Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok, as well as letters of credence to five new ambassadors, including Cho Tae-yul, Seoul’s new ambassador to Washington.

After Choo’s remark earlier in the day that Park may proclaim martial law as a survival tactic, Blue House Spokesman Jung Youn-kuk called such allegations “irresponsible political incitement.”

Street protests are scheduled to take place on Saturday nationwide. The rally organizer, an association of various civic and labor groups, estimate up to 500,000 people will take to the streets in Seoul, while as many as 1 million people will participate nationwide.

Park’s approval rating has remained at an all-time low of five percent for three weeks now, according to a Gallup Korea poll of 1,007 adults nationwide that was conducted from Tuesday to Thursday. The rating is the lowest for any Korean president in history.

kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr

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