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South Korea Prez impeachment vote delayed by one week

An impeachment vote against South Korea’s scandal-hit president will be postponed by at least a week, lawmakers said on Wednesday, after Park Geun-Hye announced that she was willing to stand down early.

Lawmakers from Park’s own party had backed moves to impeach her this Friday, but now want the issue to be discussed in parliament before holding a vote, likely to be scheduled a week later.

Park had on Tuesday said that she would let parliament decide her fate, following accusations that Choi Soon-Sil – a secretive confidante dubbed “Korea’s Rasputin” – elicited over 60 million in payments from some of the country’s top firms, including Samsung.

Park has been named as a suspect in the growing investigation, making her the first sitting president to be subjected to a criminal probe while in office.

“Once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimises any power vacuum and chaos in governance, I will step down,” she had said in a live video address.

Critics said the statement was a calculated bid to delay impeachment, by splitting opinion on her fate among her own and the three opposition parties. The speech appeared to convince some from Park’s Saenuri party, creating a roadblock for the opposition, which requires a two-third majority in the national assembly to pass an impeachment motion.

About 30 Saenuri lawmakers, who had initially backed removing the president from office, were wavering following her address, the Moonhwa Ilbo daily reported. The opposition insists that Park must step down immediately and unconditionally, while loyalists call for an “orderly departure”.

While she retains the presidency, Park cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason, but she could be charged once she steps down. 

The massive protests have intensified over the past month, with up to 1.5 million people braving freezing temperatures in Seoul on Saturday to demand Park’s resignation, according to organisers.
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