Updated: 3:00 p.m. ET
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been stripped of her authority after parliament voted overwhelmingly Friday to impeach her — though it could take as long as six months for a court to validate the vote.
The suspension comes after six weeks of protests that reached a tipping point last weekend when as many as 1.5 million people (by organizers’ estimates) lined the streets of the capital city Seoul to call for an end to the corruption and cronyism that has long dogged South Korea’s political system.
The scandal – which has gripped South Korea since October – centers on the relationship between Park and her unofficial advisor Choi Soon-sil. Park is accused of helping Choi attract tens of millions of dollars in donations for her foundation from major South Korean companies — as well as sharing classified documents with her.
Choi, who claims to have shamanistic powers, has been charged separately with fraud, abuse of power, and coercion.
The motion to impeach Park — which accused her of “extensive and serious violations of the Constitution and the law” — passed the National Assembly on Friday in a vote of 234 to 56, according to speaker Chung Sye-kyun, meaning that over 60 of Park’s own Saenuri party members voted to impeach.
Thousands of people gathered outside the parliament building in Seoul on Friday, cheering when news of Park’s impeachment was announced. AP reports that some businesses in South Korea are celebrating the vote by holding sales, including a hotel in Busan offering free rooms on Friday.
Though Friday’s announcement delighted thousands of people who took to the streets to celebrate, protester IL-Hyeon Baek doesn’t expect it to be the end of corruption in politics. “It won’t change everything,” IL-Hyeon told VICE News. “It’s just Park Geun-Hye stepping down. There’s more that remains, corrupt businesses. To get rid of all that, we will probably need more time.”
Last month Park offered to resign if parliament voted to impeach her, but the final decision now rests with the country’s constitutional court, which will decide if Park should be removed from office. Six of the court’s nine justices need to support the vote for it to come into effect — but the process could take months.
Some protesters appeared prepared for a drawn-out affair. “Judging from her steps so far, she’s probably not going to go away easily,” protester Young-Jin Kim told VICE News. “So even if the impeachment motion passes, people will have to hit the streets for a few more weeks. That’s all ordinary people can do, hit the streets and add their voices to the cause.”
Park’s duties will pass temporarily to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. Should the court ratify the vote, a new presidential election will take place within 60 days of the announcement.
Park’s approval rating has plummeted to just 4 percent in the wake of the scandal, the lowest of any serving president since Korea became a democracy in 1987. The controversy has also sparked weeks of consecutive, massive demonstrations. Protesters see the scandal as symptomatic of the continuing collusion between government and big business within the ruling classes in South Korea.
— Jay Caspian Kang, Laurel Chor and Adam Ruszkowski contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.