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Parties divided over impeachment of judges implicated in power abuse scandal

Rival parties on Tuesday were divided over whether the National Assembly should push for a proposal to impeach sitting judges implicated in a power abuse scandal involving an ex-Supreme Court chief justice.

A council of representative judges from district courts agreed Monday that it is necessary to seek the impeachment of judges over allegations of having worked with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae to use trials as bargaining chips in dealings with the office of then President Park Geun-hye.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea welcomed the move, adding that the National Assembly should actively consider their impeachment. 

But conservative parties said that it is too early to discuss it, given that prosecutors’ investigation is under way.


“We highly appreciate the judiciary for raising self-reflecting and reformist voices. Now is the time for parliament to answer,”

Hong Young-pyo, the Democratic Party’s floor leader, said at a meeting with party officials.

Hong also stressed the need to set up a special panel of judges to address the judiciary scandal, a proposal that his party and three minor parties made last month.

“We will immediately start discussions on the issues of the tribunal and impeachment through cooperation with opposition parties, which are on the same page with us,” he added.

In a related move, the Democratic Party said it will review working-level preparations for the impeachment bill after Hong and its lawmakers sitting on the legislation committee held an emergency meeting over the issue.

But the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and the minor conservative Bareunmirae Party remained cautious about the impeachment of judges out of concern that it could hamper the judiciary branch’s independence.

“It is very problematic to say that the power abuse issue can be resolved only through impeachment as judges implicated in the scandal can stand trial under the current judiciary system,” said Kim Sung-tae, the Liberty Korea Party’s floor leader.

Kim Kwan-young, the Bareunmirae Party’s floor leader, said that it is too early to discuss the parliamentary impeachment.

“As a prosecutors’ probe is under way and no charges have been filed, it is hard to specify those who will be subject to impeachment and the reasons for it,” he said.

The leftist Justice Party, which holds five parliamentary seats, welcomed the impeachment move and the establishment of a special panel of judges over the power abuse case.

The minor liberal Party for Democracy and Peace had a reserved attitude toward the impeachment but later switched its stance in support of it.

The National Assembly has tabled impeachment motions for judges twice, in 1985 and 2009. But both bills failed to win approval, either by being voted down or automatically scuttled.

A vote in favor by a third of the 299-member parliament enables a motion to impeach judges to be tabled at a plenary session. If the bill wins majority approval, the Constitutional Court begins to review the petition.

Judges will be dismissed from their posts if six of the nine judges at the highest court uphold the impeachment.

The Democratic Party controls 129 seats at the assembly, meaning that it is possible to table the motion with votes solely from Democratic Party lawmakers.

The Liberty Korea Party holds 112 posts, and the Bareunmirae Party has 30 seats.

But for approval, at least 150 yes votes are needed and thus cooperation from the minor Bareunmirae Party and the Party for Democracy and Peace is essential.

The National Assembly is deadlocked as the Liberty Korea Party and the Bareunmirae Party boycotted parliamentary sessions last week, demanding the dismissal of President Moon Jae-in’s top aide for civil affairs and a parliamentary probe into a hiring scandal at a public subway operator. (Yonhap)