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Opposition pledges to impeach Park next Friday

An opposition coalition decided Friday to press ahead with a vote on parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on Dec. 9, patching up cracks that erupted after the president’s surprise offer earlier in the week to cut her term short.

The vote will take place as scheduled, they confirmed, regardless whether Park announces her plan for early departure. The president said on Tuesday that she is willing to resign if the political parties offer her a time frame and legal process for it, but the opposition parties rejected the call.

According to their agreement, the three parties -- the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, the runner-up People’s Party and minor Justice Party -- will gather signatures from lawmakers beyond the required count of 150 by no later than Saturday and submit it to the floor next Thursday. The lawmakers are required to vote within 72 hours of an impeachment motion being submitted.

“There will be no faltering in our commitment to impeaching Park,” said the parties in a statement. “We were supposed to see Park suspend her duties today, but apologize for failing to uphold the people’s resolution.”

The motion contains the allegation that Park violated the Constitution by allowing her civilian friend Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state affairs. It also states that Park committed crimes of abuse of power, bribery and extortion when she colluded with Choi to force private businesses to make donations.

The agreement came a day after the parties bickered over the voting schedule amid concern that they had yet to secure enough votes to pass it. The Democratic Party and Justice Party demanded prompt action, but the People’s Party urged them to wait until they secured enough votes from the ruling Saenuri Party.

The opposition parties said that passing the motion on Dec. 9 is the most “viable timeframe” for them to convince as many Saenuri lawmakers to approve the motion. They had pushed to hold the voting session next Monday, but the move was rejected by Saenuri lawmakers.

Saenuri lawmakers critical of Park --  whose votes are crucial to meeting the two-thirds majority required at the 300-seat National Assembly to pass an impeachment -- said that they would support the impeachment unless Park clarifies when she will step down by 6 p.m. on Dec. 7

Rep. Park Jie-won (left), head of the People's Party, Woo Sang-ho (center), the floor leader of the Democratic Party and Roh Hoe-chan of the Justice Party meet at the National Assembly in Seoul on Friday. The three parties agreed to vote on an impeachement motion on President Park Geun-hye on Dec. 9 (Park Hae-mook / The Korea Herald)
Rep. Park Jie-won (left), head of the People's Party, Woo Sang-ho (center), the floor leader of the Democratic Party and Roh Hoe-chan of the Justice Party meet at the National Assembly in Seoul on Friday. The three parties agreed to vote on an impeachement motion on President Park Geun-hye on Dec. 9 (Park Hae-mook / The Korea Herald)
“The president needs to clarify her plan to leave office and transfer her powers to the prime minister,” said Rep. Hwang Young-chul, who represents the group. At least 28 Saenuri lawmakers must approve to pass the motion, assuming that all opposition and independents vote in favor of impeaching Park.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Park said she was leaving everything to the National Assembly, including the timing of when her own presidency will end. She asked the legislative body to decide the time frame and legal process of her early departure from office. Her term officially finishes in February 2018.

The dissenting group also pressured the opposition parties into coming up with a unified plan to remove her from office. In a general assembly on Thursday, Saenuri lawmakers officially decided to recommend that the president leave office this April and hold a presidential election two months later.

Until now, the opposition coalition has rejected the call, demanding Park resign immediately and unconditionally. Pointing to the fact that Park did not offer any specific timeline for her resignation, opposition lawmakers dismissed the proposal as a stalling ploy aimed at luring back her opponents in Saenuri Party. 

“(Early resignation of Park) is the most rational plan for us,” said Saenuri floor leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk. Earlier in the day, Chung said that Saenuri members are willing to abandon ther parliamentary seats if the president refuse to accept her resignation plan offered by political parties.

But it is still unclear how many of them would stick to their commitment in a secret ballot. In a survey released by local daily JoongAng Ilbo on Friday, Among 31 Saenuri lawmakers supporting impeachment in its previous poll, 21 said they would change their mind if Park decided to step down next April.

Rep. Kim Moo-sung, the former Saenuri leader who had vowed to spearhead the effort to impeach her, told reporters on Friday that if the president set a date for her resignation, the lawmakers would not have to impeach her.

Other Saenuri impeachment supporters said that if the political parties failed to come up with a unified plan for Park’s resignation, they would push ahead with her impeachment, even if the president said that she would resign next April.

“There are no changes to our plan for impeaching her,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min of Saenuri Party, another key Park opponent. “If the political parties fail to reach an agreement when opposition parties rejected Park’s April resignation plan, we would join in impeaching Park.”

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)
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