On Wednesday, February 8, South Korean lawmakers decided to impeach the interior minister over his response to a fatal Halloween crush, paving the way for him to become the nation’s first cabinet member to be removed by the legislature.
The impeachment resolution was approved by a secret vote of 179-109 in the 300-member house, where the main opposition Democratic Party had a majority of 169 seats. It needs the backing of at least 150 members of the assembly to pass.
The motion will be reviewed by the justice committee of the parliament before being forwarded to the Constitutional Court, which might take up to six months to decide whether to uphold the impeachment.
The Democrats and other opposition parties pressed for the expulsion of Lee Sang-min, the minister of the interior, pressing him to accept responsibility for the poor reaction to the crush.
On October 29, 159 people were murdered and 196 were injured when revelers rushed narrow alleys in the popular nightlife neighborhood of Itaewon to celebrate Halloween without coronavirus masks for the first time in three years.
Lee and the police have been criticized for their handling of the incident, especially after transcripts of emergency calls were made public and revealed that numerous individuals warned of potential danger and requested assistance hours before the rush.
Lee has apologized for the inadequate answers, but when asked on Monday if he was willing to resign, he stated that his top objective is to develop and execute measures to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.
President Yoon Suk-yeol had rejected the opposition’s demand that he fire Lee, and both his administration and the ruling party condemned the Democrats for misusing their majority status to move forward with the impeachment.
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This week, tensions rose between the families of the crush victims and the Seoul authorities after the families erected an illegal memorial in front of city hall. On Tuesday, city officials stated that the memorial was in violation of the guidelines and demanded its removal within one week.
When the Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment in 2017, President Park Geun-hye became the first elected South Korean leader to be removed from office. In 2014, the court rejected an impeachment petition against President Roh Moo-hyun.