South Korea impeachment vote: the key facts behind a presidential crisis

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Contenders are lining up to replace Park Geun-hye, who could become the first democratically elected leader to be forced from office

What will happen if Park Geun-hye is impeached?

The opposition parties behind the impeachment motion are confident they have enough votes, but they are not assured of victory. For the motion to pass a move that would in effect end Parks presidency a year early it must be supported by 200 of the national assemblys 300 MPs. That means all opposition lawmakers must vote in favour, as well as at least 28 members of Parks ruling Saenuri party.

There is every chance the impeachment motion will succeed given that dozens of anti-Park Saenuri party MPs have indicated they would support it. But it remains to be seen whether their intentions are matched by their actions.

Opposition parties formally introduced the motion on Thursday, with the assembly required to vote on it within 72 hours. The speaker, Chung Sye-kyun, has asked that the vote be held on Friday, probably in the early afternoon.

Impeachment would mean Friday would in effect be Parks last day in office. Her executive powers would be immediately suspended and transferred to the prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn. But it doesnt mean she will have to vacate the presidential Blue House immediately.

Her fate will lie in the hands of nine judges at the countrys constitutional court, who will have up to 180 days to rule on whether the impeachment vote is valid. Although the entire court bench was appointed by Park and her conservative predecessor, the strength of public anger towards Park means she would be wrong to believe they could save her presidency.

I believe the judges will make a decision based on their love of the country and conscience, said Kim Jong-dae, who served on the bench between 2006 and 2012. They are also people of the Republic of Korea, breathing the same air as all of us.

If the impeachment motion passes, the constitutional court will determine whether parliament followed due process and whether there are sufficient grounds for impeachment, a process that will involve arguments from both sides in public hearings.

If they ratify the vote, Park will formally resign and an election for a new South Korean president held within 60 days. It would be an ignominious end for Park, who would go down in history as the first democratically elected South Korean president to be forced out of office.

What if she survives the impeachment vote?

A vote against impeachment would be a disaster for the opposition, which would face accusations of failing to act on public demand for Parks exit. According to a Realmeter poll released on Thursday, 78.2% of respondents said they wanted Park impeached. In recognition of public expectations, the leaders of South Koreas two main opposition parties have said their 159 assembly members would resign if the impeachment motion failed.

Pressure for Park to step down is expected to continue, even if she survives Fridays vote or the constitutional court rules in her favour. Park has made it clear her preferred course of action would be to voluntarily leave office next April an option that Saenuri lawmakers abandoned after another series of massive anti-Park protests in the capital, Seoul, and other cities.

Who is in the running to become South Koreas next president?

Moon Jae-in, a veteran lawmaker from the opposition Democratic party of Korea, leads the opinion polls. Moon has won plaudits for his uncompromising stance towards Park and his warning to constitutional court judges that overturning an impeachment vote would be a betrayal of the South Korean people. Moon, a former human rights lawyer, unsuccessfully challenged Park for the presidency in 2012.

The one-time frontrunner, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, lies in second place, having suffered a recent dip in support due to his close association with Parks Saenuri party although he is not a member. The 72-year-old career diplomat served as South Koreas foreign minister from 2004 to 2006. He has indicated an interest in returning to South Korean politics after he leaves his UN post at the end of the year, but has recently refused to comment publicly on the Park scandal.
There has been talk of Parks predicament creating a Trump effect in South Korea, fuelled by public fury towards the political establishment and, as underlined by the current cronyism scandal, its cozy ties with the countrys wealthy, and powerful family-owned chaebol conglomerates.

That new political environment could open the door to Lee Jae-myung, the liberal mayor of Seongnam and an ardent supporter of Parks impeachment. The 52-year-old, who could soon overtake Ban in the polls, has been a visible presence at the huge demonstrations that have swept South Korea in recent weeks, using them to call for a revolution in the countrys politics.

Other potential candidates are Seoul mayor and former civic activist Park Won-soon, and Ahn Cheol-soo, a software tycoon who ditched his 2012 run for the Blue House to form an alliance with Moons party. Ahn has been a vocal critic of the chaebols dominance of the South Korean economy.

What impact will the scandal have on South Korean politics?

Parks future aside, the scandal has further exposed the unhealthy ties between establishment politicians and the countrys conglomerates. That arrangement was largely tolerated while the chaebol spearheaded rapid growth in the South Korean economy Asias fourth-biggest but the rising income gap, youth unemployment and high-profile problems affecting Samsung and other major companies, means voters patience is wearing dangerously thin.

There are fears that the political turmoil engulfing South Korea could have an adverse impact on the economy. The finance ministry said it was concerned about further risks to the economy from domestic issues that could harm consumption and investment, adding to the uncertainty arising from the state of the global economy.

The Bank of Korea said it would hold emergency meetings to discuss possible policy responses to any fallout from the impeachment vote, according to a central bank official.

Some analysts have described Parks fall from grace as a rare victory for people power, with protesters turning out in their hundreds of thousands in the biggest demonstrations South Korea has seen since the pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s.

Whether the recent scandal ushers in a new era of clean politics remains to be seen. Corruption and cronyism are nothing new in South Korea. Since its first democratic elections were held in 1987, every president has faced graft investigations after leaving office. One of them, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide as a corruption investigation closed in on his family.

But while previous corruption scandals have often involved relatives who abused their links to the Blue House for financial gain, the figure at the centre of the latest controversy is none other than Park herself.

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