Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pressure Builds to Impeach South Korea's President ; Accused of Violating Election Rules, President Roh Faces Unprecedented Vote Friday

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pressure Builds to Impeach South Korea's President ; Accused of Violating Election Rules, President Roh Faces Unprecedented Vote Friday

Article excerpt

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is battling for his political life against fast-rising pressure to drive him from power.

An unlikely coalition dominated by Mr. Roh's conservative and regional critics is seeking to impeach the president amid charges of corruption and violation of South Korea's election laws.

Thursday, the coalition claimed that it had the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass an impeachment motion. But Roh's followers in the National Assembly physically blocked lawmakers from casting ballots against him.

The ruckus in the assembly reaches a showdown Friday, when members have to cast their ballots. By law, lawmakers have just 72 hours to act on the impeachment motion, which was introduced by a simple majority vote on Tuesday.

If the motion passes, power would transfer to Prime Minister Goh Kun, a former mayor of Seoul and veteran of Korea's political wars.

The political warfare to oust Roh goes far beyond election law violations or even the corruption scandals that have dominated the headlines here for months. At stake is the issue of conservative opposition to Roh's attitude toward big business as well as domestic regional rivalries.

"He is trying to mobilize the left-leaning people against business," says Lee Shin Bom, a candidate of the conservative Grand National Party. "He is just trying to destroy the establishment."

At the same time, the relatively liberal Millennium Democratic Party, which supported Roh in the 2002 presidential election, now opposes him for failing to shower favors upon politicians from the southwestern Cholla region, the wellspring of their strength.

Roh was elected in part because he won 95 percent of the votes in Cholla, the power base of Roh's predecessor, Kim Dae Jung. Mr. Kim supported Roh, who is from near the southeastern port city of Pusan, often at odds with Cholla politically.

Assembly election nears

Roh, who once said he would call a referendum to see if he was fit to stay in office, clung to power in a rambling press conference Thursday in which he said he was sorry for the controversy over charges of bribes accepted by a brother and several aides. …

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