VOLUME XLII NO.12
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Special Report
 
The Korean National Assembly Passed A Motion to Impeach President Park Geun-hye On December 9, 2016
On Dec. 9, 2016, Korean National Assembly passed a motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye over her alleged link to a corruption scandal involving her confidante that has paralyzed the government for the past several weeks. The motion was passed with the approval of 234 lawmakers from the 300-seat National Assembly, meeting the minimum requirement of 200. The passage suspends all the president's authority as the head of state before the Constitutional Court announces its review. While 299 lawmakers joined the anonymous vote, 56 lawmakers voted against the impeachment, while two abstained. Seven votes were considered invalid.
"Dear people, the National Assembly today passed a motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye," said Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, after announcing the poll result, on Dec. 9, 2016. "It is with a heavy heart that we, all members of the Parliament, receive the outcome. I hope this unfortunate event never happens again."
"From now on, I will calmly respond to an impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court and an independent counsel probe in accordance with the procedures laid out in the Constitution and the (related) law," said President Park Geun-hey, presiding over the last Cabinet meeting after the parliamentary vote.
"This is regrettable, and an unfortunate incident for our history. The confusion in state affairs must end here," said Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party.
Rep. Kim Moo-sung, a former party head who led a group of Saenuri rebels advocating Park's impeachment, said that he would await the Constitutional Court's verdict.
"We apologize for failing to prevent confusion as the ruling party," the Saenuri Party said in an official statement, adding it will focus its efforts to renew itself and learn lessons from the past.
The Assembly passed the motion to impeach President Park 234-56 in a secret ballot vote in the wake of a presidential scandal involving her confidant Choi Soon-sil. The impeachment motion, signed by 171 opposition and independent lawmakers, passed overwhelmingly with 234 in favor, 56 against, two abstentions and seven invalid votes in the 300-member Assembly.
The overwhelming passage of the impeachment motion came after millions of people took to the streets to hold rallies demanding Park's resignation over the last six weeks. The President said she humbly accepts the Assembly's decision, but indicated that she would not step down and would await the ruling by the Constitutional Court.
Impeachment, the official sanction that the legislature is entitled to impose upon the state chief, has so far been shelved due to risks of backfiring. Based on Clause 65 of the Constitution, the National Assembly may vote on a motion of impeachment, if the President has breached the Constitution or other laws. Once the motion obtains the legislature's approval, its final effectuation is to be decided by the Constitutional Court.
The fate of her presidency now rests with the nine judges of the Constitutional Court, who will review whether her alleged wrongdoings warrant her removal. While the court deliberates, Park is suspended from office and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahnhas stepped in as acting President.
What is Park being impeached for? According to the domestic news, the impeachment bill, approved by the Parliament on December 9, listed four main charges against President Park. They are:
- Park violated multiple clauses of the Constitution by allowing her civilian friend Choi Soon-sil and Choi's associates to meddle in state affairs.
- Park broke multiple laws by colluding with Choi and others to force private businesses to make donations and give contracts to particular companies.
- Park broke the law by handing over to Choi a draft of presidential and governmental documents containing confidential information.
- Park neglected her duty to protect the lives of the people when the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, killing over 300 people.

The 28-page written statement, submitted to the Constitutional Court on Dec. 11, 2016, Sunday, was revealed to the media by a parliamentary team tasked with the upcoming impeachment trial. Park, with 14 months left in her five-year term, was impeached by the National Assembly after an explosive scandal that revealed her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil has been meddling in state affairs.
Park submitted a written response on impeachment charges to the Constitutional Court on December 11. The statement, which was disclosed to the media, showed that Park has absolutely no idea of what she has done wrong and why she was impeached by the National Assembly in a motion that was even supported by members of her own Saenuri Party.
Park rejected all of the impeachment charges, arguing that there was no evidence to prove them and that no serious crime was committed to warrant her to be dismissed from office. This shows her shallow grasp of presidential behavior and respect for the law. The President should take any violation of the law seriously, whether it be grave or minor, and take full responsibility for it.
The following is a summary of Park's written statement as revealed on December 11.
- The impeachment motion predicates unconfirmed allegations and thereby violates the presumption of innocence.
- Shifting the blame to Park for what Choi Soon-sil did violates a principle that bans collective punishment.
- There is no evidence that Choi and others exerted power over state affairs or in appointments of government officials. The Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation were only part of the presidential duty, and not for her personal gain. Park was not aware of Choi's embezzlement.
- The president may have consulted others in appointing officials, but did not abuse the authority, as she made the final decisions.
- Park did not force conglomerates or their affiliates to make donations. The firms stated in the prosecutorial probe that they contributed voluntarily.
- Park did not exert undue pressure on the management of media corporations, including local daily SegyeIlbo.
- The Sewol ferry incident was a tragic accident, but not reason to impeach the President.
- Park's direction to actively help small and middle-sized companies to the presidential aide was part of her duty and does not constitute bribery.
- It is not clear if the speech drafts and other presidential documents were considered confidential documents, and they were not delivered to Choi under Park's instruction.
Park's defense team promised a tough legal battle to nullify the National Assembly's impeachment of Park in a written statement submitted to the Constitutional Court, on December 16. Her defense team denied all 13 allegations - five constitutional violations and eight legal offenses - as claimed by the opposition-led National Assembly in the impeachment motion.
"There is no reason for the President to be impeached," the delegation said during a press conference after turning in Park's statement. "She did not violate the Constitution or law in any manner and the document is intended to show the National Assembly made the wrong decision. We will thoroughly deal all facts and juridical relations concerning her impeachment."

Who is Park? Park is the first female President of South Korea. She is the first daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 18 years until his assassination in 1979. She won the 2012 presidential election on support of conservative voters - particularly elderly voters nostalgic for her father's era.
Childless and never married, the President has famously said she has devoted her life to the country and never pursued private interests.
The fate of President Park Geun-hye has been handed over to nine justices at the Constitutional Court by the 300-seat National Assembly. The nation's destiny is up to the Constitutional Court, which has the crucial obligation of paving the way for Republic of Korea to begin its normalization process as soon as possible. There has already been a lot of evidence caught by the prosecution and lawmakers that Park had breached the Constitution and been implicated in other legal violations.
Images of the young Park growing up at the presidential Blue House endeared her to South Koreans, with the first family treated as royalty by some and Park as the young princess.As daughter of the late military dictator Park Chung-Hee, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was a conservative icon.
The deaths of Park's parents in the 1970s further fanned sympathy for her as an illfated young woman who lost parents to assassinations but managed to rise above the personal tragedy. Park's mother was murdered five years before her father, who was assassinated by his own security chief in 1979.
The fact that Park, 64, never married was also part of her appeal in a country where past leaders were often embroiled in major corruption scandals involving family members. But the latest scandal involving Park's close friend Choi Soon-Sil - now under arrest for fraud and abuse of power - turned out to be too much even for the staunchest Park supporters.
She apologized several times in tearful televised addresses, in which she painted herself as a lonely, isolated leader whose main offense was to be over-trusting of a personal friend. But there was little public sympathy, with many seeing her professed isolation as a reflection of aloof arrogance rather than genuine loneliness.
Now Park, already the first sitting South Korean President to be subjected to a criminal probe, looks set to go down as the first democratically-elected President to be booted out of office. The impeachment vote by Parliament still requires the confirmation of the Constitutional Court - a process that could take months.