South Korea opposition votes to seek Park's impeachment Jung Ha-Won

SEOUL - South Korea's main opposition party voted Monday to seek the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye after prosecutors named her a criminal suspect in a snowballing corruption case.

But it remains unclear exactly when Park's opponents will formally try to start the process, a difficult and lengthy one with no guarantee about the outcome.

Members of the Democratic Party voted unanimously in favour of seeking Park's impeachment and setting up a working group to review related legal issues, its spokesman Ki Dong-Min told reporters.

"We have decided to join efforts with civic groups, other opposition parties and even members of the ruling party who want Park to be impeached," Ki said.

He said the party would formally begin the process when it sees the "biggest possibility" of parliament approving such a move.

Two smaller opposition parties have already said they will seek to remove Park.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

Even some members of the president's ruling conservative party have come out in favour of impeachment.

But their commitment to the process is unclear for now, partly due to fear of a political backlash if the impeachment bid fails.

A failed attempt in 2004 to impeach then-President Roh Moo-Hyun backfired badly, with two parties that led the bid suffering a devastating defeat in a general election the same year.

In some ways the opposition has had its hand forced by the huge outpouring of anti-Park sentiment, which has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets of Seoul in recent weeks demanding she step down.

With Park showing no sign of going voluntarily, the opposition has come under pressure to take a more assertive stance, but is wary of the political dangers involved.

"Even if there is great public anger over Park for now, many lawmakers may be reluctant to take such a big risk by walking into an impeachment minefield," said political commentator Kim Hong-Guk.

Park has just over a year to run of her single, five-year presidential term, and impeachment could take months, as it requires a two-thirds approval by the national assembly and a similar majority in the Constitutional Court.

There are concerns about a backlash from conservative voters who - while disappointed with Park - would see her impeachment as unwarranted and overly punitive.

On Sunday Seoul prosecutors said Park had colluded with her long-time friend Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of coercing local firms to donate more than $60 million and of meddling in state affairs.

That made Park the first South Korean president to become a criminal suspect while in office.

Choi and a former Park aide were formally indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion, while another aide was charged with leaking confidential state documents.

Park had previously said she would submit to prosecutors for questioning, but her lawyer signalled a change Sunday, saying she would only answer to an independent team of investigators which will soon take over the case.

A sitting president cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason, but she can be investigated and potentially charged once her term is over.

The three opposition parties hold a combined 55 per cent of parliamentary seats - short of the two-thirds majority, for which they would require the support of conservative MPs.

The scandal has sent Park's job approval ratings diving to five per cent, a record low for a South Korean president.