by Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- President Park Geun-hye, the 18th leader of South Korea in its constitutional history, must not have imagined her fate in 2004 when her own party led the impeachment of late President Roh Moo-hyun.
The Grand National Party, predecessor of Parks ruling Saenuri Party, removed Roh from office, albeit temporarily, with a majority ballot it cast to pass the impeachment motion 12 years ago.
Another political party, which had supported Roh before the impeachment, helped force the progressive leader out as the passage requires the two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly.
Before the vote, scuffles and yells were traded between impeachment supporters and opponents in the assembly on March 12, 2004, local TV footage showed. One opponent lawmaker was seen shedding tears and saying it was a coup after the impeachment passage.
Park, who was watching it in the main chamber with a broad smile, now becomes the countrys second president that is impeached by the unicameral assembly. It may be remembered as a dramatic scene to usher in a new era in South Korea.
Park, 64, seemed an unassailable icon in the conservative bloc as the daughter of an assassinated former military strongman reminded right-leaning voters of her father who is worshipped by some as a leader who sped up industrialization.
The illusion was broken apart as the economy is mired in the prolonged slump and massive household debts. The slump stemmed partly from global economic slowdown, but debt-servicing burden amassed as the Park administration encouraged people to purchase apartment with borrowed money.
Income disparities widened and youth unemployment skyrocketed as the business-friendly policy lasted. The Park administration sought to let businesses fire regular workers and recruit irregular employees in an easier way by bending labor rules.
Chiefs of nine family-run conglomerates were grilled by lawmakers over their involvement in Parks corruption scandal, being reminiscent of the deep-rooted collusive links between politicians and businessmen.
In the 2012 presidential election campaign, Park appealed to voters by saying she will be freed from corruption of presidential relatives as she has no family member left to care about, but nobody now seems to believe it.
Prosecutors brand Park as a criminal accomplice to her decades-long confidante, Choi Soon-sil who was charged with extorting donations from conglomerates and accessing secret documents to meddle in state affairs from the shadows.
Enraged at the behind-the-scenes big shot who pulled government strings without any public position, ordinary South Koreans went to the streets for six straight Saturdays. The historic Dec. 3 candlelight vigil drew 2.32 million across the nation to demand Parks impeachment and immediate resignation.
It is in a stark contrast to the 2004 impeachment, after which hundreds of thousands of protesters held candle vigils nationwide to annul what they claimed was a political maneuver. At the time, over six out of 10 South Koreans opposed the impeachment.
Roh was accused of breaking an election law by calling on voters to support his own party in the 2004 parliamentary election. Just over two months later, the constitutional court ruled that his breach was not grave enough to boot him from office though he violated political neutrality rule under the election law.
Voters granted his party a landslide victory in the 2004 election. Roh was returned back to office right after the final conclusion by the nine-judge court that can have as long as 180 days to deliberate the impeachment. The permanent impeachment requires the courts two-thirds approval.
President Park, who is suspended by the parliamentary impeachment, should wait for the courts review. All presidential power will be handed to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who becomes acting president.
Uncertainties vary, but at least public opinion overwhelmingly supports the impeachment. Recent polls showed that over eight out of 10 South Koreans want Park permanently sacked.
Conservative voters, who had been a traditional supporting group of Park and had given many election victories to Park and her party, turned their backs on the scandal-scarred president.
As 172 opposition and independent lawmakers are believed to have voted for impeachment, 62 ruling Saenuri Party members are estimated to have voted yes in the secret ballot. It surpassed 56 Saenuri members votive against it.
It remains to be seen whether the constitutional courts ruling will usher in a new era in South Korea.