Roundup: S.Korean lawmakers impeach President Park, hands power to prime minister

South Korean parliament on Friday overwhelmingly passed a historic bill to impeach scandal-scarred President Park Geun-hye as it vaulted high past the two-thirds majority threshold.

The final tally was 234 votes in favor of impeachment, with 56 against and 2 abstentions. Seven votes were invalid. One legislator did not take part in the voting.

President Park will be stripped of all powers immediately after receiving the copied result on paper. It is expected to take 3-4 hours for the document to reach the impeached president.

The first South Korean female leader became the country's second president impeached by the National Assembly.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is to become acting president, temporarily assuming presidential power while the constitutional court weighs the case for as long as 180 days.

The impeachment bill was overwhelmingly passed as there are 172 opposition and independent lawmakers in the 300-seat assembly. Overcoming the two-thirds threshold required at least 28 ruling party members.

Before the vote, local media speculations varied from as few as 195 votes in favor to as many as 220 for impeachment. But, the final tally far surpassed expectations at 234 yes votes.

The result showed that at least 62 members of the ruling Saenuri Party voted for it, with 56 against. Even considering two abstentions and one refusal to participate, impeachment supporters were more than opponents in Park's own party.

The division heralds a battle between factions to dominate the governing party leadership, but the anti-Park Saenuri faction is expected to have an upper hand given that it has led the impeachment campaign.

During the vote broadcast live on TV, protesters held rallies along the wall of the parliament building in capital Seoul. After the vote result came out, people celebrated it with some broadly smiling and others hugging each other, TV footage showed.

The vote kicked off right after a quarter-hour speech by a lawmaker to explain the impeachment proposal, which was handed in last Saturday by the opposition bloc.

It took just over an hour to make the proposal speech, cast ballots and count votes. Legislators voted one by one on printed ballot paper inside closed booths.

The parliament picked the traditional way of voting to prevent a possible manipulation in electronic vote, which the unicameral assembly usually takes in passing bills.

President Park has to step aside while the constitutional court deliberates the impeachment case for as long as 180 days. The permanent removal of Park from office requires the two-thirds approval from the nine-judge court.

In 2004, former President Roh Moo-hyun was returned back to office as the court rejected the case about two months after the parliamentary impeachment.

Public opinion, however, is totally different. Park's scandal prompted millions of demonstrators to hold candlelight vigils for six straight Saturdays, demanding the scandal-hit president's immediate resignation and impeachment.

Impeachment of Roh encouraged hundreds of thousands of South Koreans to take to streets to demand the annulment of what they claimed was a political maneuver.

Roh, who was accused of calling on voters to support his own party, violated an election law that requires a president to remain neutral. The constitutional court ruled later that it was not grave enough to boot him from office.

President Park has been branded by prosecutors as a criminal accomplice, becoming the country's first sitting leader to be investigated as a suspect. A president has immunity from prosecution while in office, but Park can be indicted if the impeachment is upheld by the constitutional court.

Source: Philippines News Agency