South Korean leader Park Geun-hye became the country's first president to be ousted by impeachment after a panel of justices on Friday upheld a motion to dismiss her over one of the nation's biggest influence-peddling scandals.
In a decision televised live from the main court room, the Constitutional Court — an independent body specializing in matters of the constitution — accepted the impeachment motion passed in parliament last year, meaning Park is now removed from office effective immediately.
"She will leave office in disgrace, which is a historic moment as that's never happened in democratic South Korea," said Stephen Noerper, senior vice president of The Korea Society.
Friday's ruling now triggers a round of special elections to replace Park within the next 60 days. Presidential hopefuls, among which Moon Jae-in from the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea leads in popularity, now await the election date, rumored to be May 9, according to local media.
Faced with allegations that included bribery and violation of sovereignty, Park was accused of colluding with her confidante and founder of the Church of Eternal Life, Choi Soon-sil, to secure millions of dollars in bribes from the country's biggest enterprises and allowing Choi, a civilian, to interfere in state affairs. Park had apologized, but denied any wrongdoing.
All of the Court's eight justices voted to uphold the motion; approval from at least six judges was needed for the motion to pass.
"The unanimity was probably intended to cool passions. Since most of the justices were chosen by Park or former President Lee Myung-bak, unanimity means they can't be accused of playing politics," said Justin Hastings, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.