Why South Korea President Faced Impeachment Vote: QuickTake Q&A

Korea Votes on Park's Impeachment

South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached by parliament Friday over an influence-peddling scandal. She will now be suspended from power with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn taking over as interim leader until the constitutional court rules on the impeachment motion within 180 days. If the court agrees to remove her from power, a special presidential election will follow in 60 days.

1. What are the allegations?

The central allegation was that Park’s old friend, Choi Soon-sil, peddled influence through their relationship. Choi has been arrested on suspicion of attempted fraud over allegations that she used her relationship with Park to pressure some of the country’s biggest corporations into donating tens of millions of dollars to her foundations. Park has apologized three times over the scandal in national televised addresses, and has acknowledged she consulted Choi on “certain documents.” Her lawyer has rejected prosecutors’ allegations that she was also involved, saying they are based on “imagination and conjecture.”

2. Who is Choi?

Choi is the daughter of a man who ran a little-known religious sect and founded an anti-communist group that Park helped run. The two women formed a friendship when Park became acting first lady for her father, Park Chung-hee, after her mother died during a botched assassination attempt on the dictator in 1974. Park has long been hounded by allegations that she allowed the Chois to take advantage of her high profile to extract money from businesses -- claims she denied in her media address.

3. Why is this shaking South Korea?

Park’s response to the crisis fanned suspicions that Choi may have meddled more extensively in government affairs, as well as peddling influence over businesses. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Seoul in recent weeks to call for Park’s resignation and arrest. Even voters in Park’s political stronghold in the southeast of the country turned against the president.

4. What does this mean for Park?

While the constitution protects a president from indictment, it allows for impeachment by a two-thirds vote of the 300-member National Assembly. In today’s session, 234 lawmakers -- including some from Park’s ruling Saenuri Party -- voted for impeaching her. Park last week said she was willing to resign before the end of her single five-year term, which has 15 months to run.

5. What does the law say?

South Korean law stipulates that the Constitutional Court should make the final decision within 180 days after it receives an impeachment proposal from the National Assembly. At least seven judges are required to try an impeachment case, while at least six have to vote for the proposal to be eventually passed. Park’s resignation would trigger a presidential election within 60 days.

6. Why should markets care?

Asia’s fourth-largest economy already faces questions about its ability to maintain economic growth. Its shipbuilding and steel industries are faltering while electronic giants like Samsung Electronics face stiff competition from Chinese manufacturers. The political instability may add to what Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol calls uncertainties. It may also deepen worries about long-term growth prospects and the country’s competitiveness. That said, Korean stocks have not missed out on the global equity lust of the past month, attracting inflows from international funds.

The Reference Shelf

  • A QuickTake Q&A on the problems with South Korea’s family-run conglomerates.
  • An explainer on how the ties between Park and the Choi family began.
  • A list of ten South Korean figures considered potential presidential runners next year.
  • A Time magazine story on Park’s life.
  • Park’s profile on the presidential website.
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