South Korea’s National Assembly is due to vote Friday on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, a first step toward forcing her out of office over her alleged role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
The opposition-controlled legislature introduced an impeachment motion Thursday, triggering a vote within 72 hours. But Friday is the last day of the year that lawmakers convene.
Most analysts expect the motion to pass. Park would be suspended immediately, and the prime minister would take over the day-to-day running of the country while South Korea’s Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take six months.
The opposition parties and independents have 172 seats in the 300-member assembly; to reach the two-thirds majority required to pass the motion, they would need the support of nearly 30 lawmakers from Park’s Saenuri Party.
As recently as the beginning of this week, analysts had said the pro-impeachment forces might be scratching to get to 200, but revelations over the past two days have further hurt Park.
Most damaging was a report by the left-leaning Hankyoreh newspaper that Park was getting her hair done on the day that the Sewol ferry sank in April 2014, claiming more than 300 lives, most of them high school students.
The president’s whereabouts for seven hours that day have been the subject of intense speculation. The Hankyoreh reported that Park’s hairdresser was at the presidential Blue House for almost two of those seven hours.
The Blue House said the hairdresser spent only 20 minutes attending to Park that afternoon, and repeated its assertion that Park was working on the day the ferry sank, receiving briefings and issuing commands as the rescue operation was underway.
But the reports have come amid a climate of intense dissatisfaction with Park, whose approval ratings have fallen to 4 percent. Huge demonstrations against her have taken place in central Seoul every Saturday for the past six weeks, rallies on a scale not seen since the country’s democratization in 1987.
Park told lawmakers in her party this week that she would not resign if the National Assembly votes to impeach her but would wait for the court to rule. She appears to be hoping that the conservative-leaning court will decide in her favor.
But she has not made any public statements. This should not be taken as a sign of indifference, a spokesman said.
“Park will calmly watch the vote and respond appropriately to the unfolding situation,” an unnamed presidential official told the Yonhap News Agency. “Though she may look nonchalant, [the current situation] might be weighing heavily on her mind.”
The scandal centers on allegations that the famously aloof Park — the country’s first female president and daughter of military strongman Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s — took advice from a secret confidante on a wide variety of topics, including North Korean policy and her wardrobe.
Prosecutors said that the confidante, Choi Soon-sil, a lifelong friend and daughter of a shadowy cult leader, used that relationship to enrich herself by at least $70 million and get advantages for her family. Choi has been indicted on charges including abuse of power and extortion and is in detention.
Prosecutors want to question Park about her role in the case, but she has refused. Instead, she has approved the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate.