Impeached South Korean President Park Geun Hye must step down permanently, the country’s constitutional court ruled in the capital Seoul on Friday.
Park, 65, South Korea’s first female president, was impeached by the National Assembly in December on charges of colluding with her close friend Choi Soon Sil to extort money from top South Korean companies and of allowing her confidante to interfere with state affairs.
South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn took over her duties in the interim after her impeachment.
The court panel of eight judges reached the decision unanimously.
It paves the way for fresh elections within 60 days.
Many observers expect the polls to be held on May 9, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
After the ruling, the acting head of the panel, Judge Lee Jung Mi, said the panel hoped it would help end the “political chaos” that has engulfed the country.
Friday’s court decision means that Park has been stripped of her parliamentary immunity and can now be prosecuted in a criminal court.
She is the first South Korean head of state to be stripped of her duties by a court ruling.
Park’s Liberty Korea Party apologised for the scandal Friday, according to Yonhap, saying it respected the verdict.
“The Liberty Korea Party gave birth to the Park Geun-hye government. It was a ruling party and the partner of state affairs,” said In Myung Jin, the party’s interim head.
“But we failed to fulfill our duty as the ruling party, and failed to protect the dignity and pride of South Korea, which has been built by the people,” In said.
Aides from Park’s party said they were discussing how to proceed.
Park’s ouster followed weeks of protests which saw hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets and her approval rating drop to a record low of 4 per cent in November.
Park has repeatedly apologised for the scandal, but has denied committing any criminal offence.
Her friend Choi has separately pleaded not guilty to a string of charges including abuse of power and attempted fraud.
The judges ruled on Friday that Choi, who held no public office, meddled in affairs of state.
However, they dismissed further charges that Park had neglected her duties during the April 2014 Sewol ferry disaster in which more than 300 people died. She and her government had been accused of not doing enough to rescue passengers.
Ahead of the expected snap election, left-of-centre politician Moon Jae In, who lost to Park in 2012, is currently heading opinion polls, signalling a possible change in South Korea’s political landscape in the wake of the scandal.
The conservative Park took office in February 2013 amid high expectations.
She stood for a new kind of conservative politics, promising in her inauguration speech to front a “new era of fortune and hope.”
Park was among the country’s most influential conservative politicians and was elected to the National Assembly five times.
She is the daughter of Park Chung Hee, who ruled the country with an iron fist in the 1960s and 1970s. (dpa/NAN)