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South Korean parliament schedules impeachment vote for Friday

Lawmakers think they have the votes to remove President Park Geun-hye and replace her with the country's prime minister, but Park says she will not leave office until an impeachment trial is over.

By Stephen Feller
South Korean parliament schedules impeachment vote for Friday
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, pictured arriving at the G20 Summit in China in September 2016, will face an impeachment vote Friday in the National Assembly over corruption charges that have inspired hundreds of thousands to protest her and driven her approval ratings under five percent. Pool Photo by Li Xiang/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye may have less than 24 hours left to her presidency as the country's National Assembly scheduled an impeachment vote for Friday on accusations of corruption that have roiled the country for months.

Though Park said she would step down step down if the Assembly asked her to and she is now refusing, lawmakers in South Korea expect to have the votes needed to remove her from office and replace her with the country's prime minister.

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Park is accused of corruption related to a confidante, Choi Soon-sil, who raked in at least $70 million, among other perks, because of a long-time friendship with the the president.

After touting herself as "uncorruptable" while running for office, the revelations about Park have sparked large weekly protests demanding she be thrown out of office and driven her approval ratings to around 4 percent.

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"Even pro-Park lawmakers in the governing party ​can't defy the wishes of the people," said Lee Nae-young, a political-science professor at Korea University. "They see that if the impeachment bill is voted down, the ruling party will suffer an even bigger political blow."

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An impeachment motion was signed Dec. 3 by 171 members of three parties opposed to Park's, allowing the assembly to schedule the impeachment vote. With a requirement for 200 members to invoke impeachment, members of the assembly say they expect to pick up the 29 votes to immediately remove her from office after the vote.

Although Park now says she would stay on as president to see the outcome of impeachment proceedings at the Constitutional Court, lawmakers say they want to replace her immediately with the prime minister and have already started discussing the possibility of holding elections next year -- more than a year before the regularly scheduled presidential election.

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"President Park said that even if an impeachment motion is passed as planned, she is determined to calmly and solemnly move forward for the nation and people as she watches the adjudication process of the Constitutional Court," said Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of Park's Saenuri Party in the National Assembly.

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