By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn began getting official briefings from aides of President Park Geun-hye on Monday, after assuming presidential authority as a caretaker following Park’s impeachment by parliament.
Hwang has sought to calm anxiety over national security and to reassure financial markets while Park’s presidency is in limbo pending the outcome of a Constitutional Court review of her impeachment, which may take up to 180 days.
Until then, Park will remain in the presidential Blue House a few blocks north of the main government complex where Hwang’s office is located.
Eight of the Constitutional Court’s nine judges met on Monday to discuss how to proceed with the case but has not set dates for public hearings, its spokesman, Bae Bo-yoon, told a briefing. The ninth was away from the country on business.
At least six of the nine judges have to concur for the motion to be upheld.
The court will next week decide on the date for the two sides’ lawyers to appear for a preliminary hearing, he said.
Park, the daughter of a military ruler who held power for 18 years after a 1961 coup, has been accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide, both of whom have been indicted, to pressure big businesses to donate to foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.
She has denied wrongdoing but apologized for carelessness in her ties with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Park has yet to announce her defense team, which is expected to be made up of at least four lawyers, including an attorney she had retained last month.
Park’s term was set to end in February 2018. If the court upholds Friday’s overwhelming parliament vote to impeach her, she will become the first elected South Korean leader to be forced from office in disgrace.
If that were to happen, a new election would be held within 60 days to pick a successor who will serve a full five-year term.
Hwang received briefings from senior presidential secretaries on Monday and he will get more on Tuesday, a Blue House official said.
Since assuming presidential powers late on Friday, Hwang has also chaired a National Security Council meeting, met the cabinet twice and visited military headquarters.
He was expected to keep Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho to ensure continuity of policy instead of replacing him with the head of the financial regulator, who Park last month had designated as his replacement, Yonhap news agency reported.
On Sunday, state prosecutors charged two more former senior officials as part of their investigation of a corruption scandal that has led to Park’s impeachment and the indictment of former aides and a friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Park herself has immunity from indictment while she is in office but could face prosecution if she is removed.
The scandal erupted in October and has drawn large street protests in Seoul for the past seven Saturdays, with the crowds calling for Park to step down immediately.
An amendment to the Constitutional Court Act requires that rulings carry named opinions by judges, suggesting they could be under some pressure in view of the public calls for Park’s removal.
An opinion poll released on Friday showed that 81 percent of those questioned supported the impeaching of the president.
(Additional reporting by Christine Kim; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)