Impeachment motion filed for leader of South Korea

Two-thirds vote needed by Parliament to oust Roh

March 10, 2004|By Barbara Demick | Barbara Demick,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEOUL, South Korea - The turbulent, year-old presidency of South Korea's Roh Moo Hyun was hit with its most serious political challenge to date yesterday when the two main opposition parties initiated impeachment proceedings in Parliament.

The motion to impeach the president, unprecedented in South Korea, follows a series of corruption scandals and Roh's messy divorce from his political party. In the incident that prompted the impeachment proceedings, opponents complained that the plainspoken labor lawyer was trying to manipulate parliamentary elections scheduled for next month.

To initiate an impeachment, Roh's opponents needed a simple majority of the 271-member Parliament - a threshold they easily exceeded with 159 lawmakers endorsing yesterday's motion. But to go forward with the impeachment, a two-thirds vote is required.

A secret ballot is to be held before 6 p.m. Friday. If approved, the measure would then go to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling.

"President Roh's unfaithful performance and rash governance created political instability, and the nation is falling into extreme misery," Roh's opponents claimed in the motion.

Although the impeachment motion's chances of succeeding were deemed slim by political pundits, the mere attempt was seen as something of a milestone for a country that only 16 years ago emerged from dictatorship.

"This is the first time that our Congress has tried to impeach an incumbent president," said Hahm Sung Deuk, a political scientist at Korea University.

Roh's current troubles resulted from his characteristic bluntness. In a television interview last month, Roh said he would do "whatever [I] can within legal bounds" to help a new political party made up of his supporters win the April 15 parliamentary elections.

The national election commission ruled that the comment violated regulations requiring presidential neutrality but deemed it a minor infraction. The impeachment motion was initiated by Roh's jilted political party, the Millennium Democratic Party, and was backed by the far larger conservative opposition, the Grand National Party.

Roh's spokesman Yoon Tai Young called the impeachment efforts "unjustifiable and irrational."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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