South Korean lawmakers began voting Friday on an impeachment motion to strip President Park Geun-Hye of her sweeping executive powers over a corruption scandal that has paralyzed her administration and triggered massive street protests.
Members of the 300-seat national assembly cast anonymous, paper ballots that will be counted manually, with a two-thirds majority required for the motion to pass.
“We have to make a historic decision while the whole nation is watching,” opposition MP Kim Kwan-Young told the chamber as he introduced the motion.
“President Park forgot her calling as the president… and violated the power bestowed upon her by the people of this country,” Kim said
Adopting the motion would result in the immediate suspension of Park’s authority, with all powers transferred to her prime minister.
She would be allowed to retain her title pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which has up to six months to decide whether or not to ratify the impeachment and formally end her presidency.
Whichever way the vote goes, it marks a startling fall from grace for a politician who had run for the presidential Blue House as an incorruptible candidate, declaring herself beholden to nobody and “married to the nation”.
With more than a year of her term left to run, she now confronts the prospect of going down as the first democratically-elected South Korean president to be kicked out of office.
The opposition-sponsored impeachment motion accused Park of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people’s lives to bribery and abuse of power.
It was filed last week with the 171 signatures of all opposition and independent lawmakers — leaving it 29 short of the two-thirds majority.
Its passage will depend on the backing of an anti-Park faction within the Saenuri party — more than 30 MPs who have shifted position several times but now look set to back Park’s ouster.
The entire opposition has threatened to resign their seats immediately if the motion is defeated.
“This impeachment is a road to salvation for the country and the people,” said Chu Mi-Ae, president of the main opposition Democratic Party.