STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is a historic day in South Korea. Just hours ago, lawmakers there voted to impeach their president, Park Geun-hye. She's been mired in a corruption scandal that has sent millions of people into the streets to protest. Now, the vote for impeachment suspends Park's power, but she is not removed from office yet, so NPR's Elise Hu is here to talk us through things. Hi, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.
INSKEEP: And she's in Seoul. What's it like to be there today?
HU: Oh, it is a huge moment, Steve. This is one of the most significant moments in South Korean democratic history, really. Lawmakers voted 234-56 in favor of the impeachment motion. What this means is President Park is temporarily stripped of her powers, and those powers are actually transferred to her appointee, the prime minister, until a constitutional court decides whether to uphold the impeachment sometime in the coming months. Now, unlike the U.S. system, there's actually no trial. The court justices will just have to decide whether to uphold or dismiss what the legislature did today.
INSKEEP: What is the case against the president?
HU: Park has admitted to allowing her close friend, a woman named Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in government affairs. Choi was actually seeing confidential documents and reviewing Park's speeches in advance. She has no official position. She has no government background. In fact, she's just a friend and spiritual adviser over the past 40 years.
INSKEEP: OK, so this has been something that Koreans have taken to heart.
HU: That's right. And that's just kind of the tip of the iceberg because Park is also under a cloud for colluding with this friend, Choi Soon-sil, to actually force or somehow extort money from South Korean companies, like Samsung and Hyundai, to ponying up up to 60 million U.S. dollars to enrich her spiritual advisor.
INSKEEP: And, of course, there have been videos of the protests that we have seen on this side of the world from Seoul. How much did public anger fuel the legislature's action here?
HU: I think it's a huge factor. Public reaction and then just weeks and weeks of negative press attention are huge reasons why President Park has herself become so isolated. The opposition parties here were, at first, reluctant to bring an impeachment motion several weeks ago, when this scandal first broke. But last weekend's rally attendance topped nearly 2 million people by organizer estimates. And the latest polls showed nearly 8 in 10 South Koreans favored impeaching their president. The public sees their president as corrupt, aloof and unable to govern. Park herself, though, we should mention, has just apologized once again to her cabinet and, by extension, the public, saying she's sorry for the distraction. But she has not actually admitted any fault in the allegations that are against her.
INSKEEP: Sorry for the distraction seems like an awfully understated way to describe your own impeachment.
HU: That's right. But, you know, again, she is accused of being kind of aloof and out of touch with the people, so this is not a huge surprise for South Korean observers. We should mention that, now that this impeachment has happened, Park is not yet removed from office. We're still waiting on a constitutional court to decide whether that happens. They have up to 180 days to decide.
INSKEEP: Elise, thanks, as always.
HU: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul.
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