Daily Update – March 9: Removal Complete

10impeachyes-02-master675(Image: Constitutional Court judges at the impeachment ruling on Friday. Source: NY Times)

On December 9, 2016, the National Assembly of South Korea voted to impeach the president with a 234-56 margin (Yonhap*). After passing the National Assembly, the motion moved to the Constitutional Court which, despite having some minor complicating factors, was given 180 days to render a verdict (NY Times). On Friday, after weeks of deliberations and hearings, the court decided to uphold the motion unanimously. In a 20 minute long decision, acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said, “the negative effects of the president’s actions and their repercussions are grave, and the benefits to defending the Constitution by removing her from office are overwhelmingly large.”  Of the charges levied against Park, the court acknowledged the illegality of Park hiding the influence of Choi Soon-sil, but dismissed the other charges for lack of evidence (Yonhap). The decision ends a leadership crisis and brings South Koreans closer to being able to restore confidence in the highest office. However, the road ahead for South Koreans and Park will be a difficult one.[1]

Within 60 days of today’s ruling, South Korea will hold a presidential election to fill the seat now vacant. At the moment, it appears the opposition bloc will have a good chance of winning the election. In January, Moon Jae-in, according to a HanKoryeh poll, sat atop with 27.4% support (HanKoryeh). His numbers have only continued to climb. Most recently, a Realmeter poll showed Moon securing 36.1% support. Hwang Kyo-ahn, the current acting president, took second in the poll at around 14% (KBS World News). Ahn Hee-jong, once a contender, saw a major drop to 12.6% after he made comments which were favorable to presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, and called for a “grand coalition” to include the ruling Liberty Korea Party (Korea Times). Other major contenders included Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung–nicknamed Korea’s “Donald Trump”–at 10.5% and Ahn Cheol-su at 9.9% (KBS World News). Hwang Kyo-ahn, the only conservative to garner double-digit support, will have a tough road ahead as President Park’s scandal has left a bitter taste for conservative politicians in the eyes of the South Korean public.[2]

The campaign in South Korea is likely to be marked with very contentious topics, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, THAAD, and South Korea’s relations with China and the United States. Moon Jae-in has been fairly ambivalent in terms of laying out policy. Following Kim Jung-un’s New Years Address, Moon harshly criticized Pyongyang, saying, in a statement, that North Korea had no future if it tried to pursue economic and nuclear advancement (Korea Times). At other times, Moon has criticized the current policy of dealing with North Korea, arguing for engagement over sanctions (Reuters). Moon has been more ambivalent on the issue of THAAD deployment. In December of 2016, he called the push for THAAD deployment under the Park presidency inappropriate (Reuters). However, Moon suggested, in a January interview, that THAAD deployment would continue under his administration, calling only for a delay (NK News). Moon has also called for a more strategic balance in terms of Korea’s relationships with China and America. Other candidates echo similar policy ideals to Moon, though many have focused on the domestic issue of how the country should recover after Park’s scandal (NY Times).[3]

South Korea is in a tough and unprecedented political situation. Park’s impeachment has brought the ever contentious election cycle closer to occurring and will force many candidates to start focusing their efforts on the election. Her scandal created a rift between the conservative politicians and the public, making it all the more likely for opposition parties to take the election. However, there is one positive note to this ending. This marks the first time in South Korean history a leader was ousted for corruption by the people as well as the legislative and judicial branches of government peacefully. Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University, called the ruling “a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea” (NY Times). Though the election may prove to be contentious and testy, at least it will represent a growing democratic structure in South Korea.

Notes

[1] This post will deal with South Korea’s future and not on the impeachment motion itself. For a detailed examination of the final two years of Park’s presidency, please see “The People vs. President Park: An Analysis of the December 9 Impeachment Vote” written by me and posted a few days after the National Assembly vote.

[2] Polls offer wonderful insight into the political landscape of a country. After the American election, however, it is tough to fully predict the outcome of an election based only on polls. Either way, Korea’s 2017 election will be interesting to monitor.

[3] The cited NY Times article has a good briefer on the candidates at the time of the impeachment vote. I promise to make a more in-depth post on the different candidates before the election, focusing on their policy recommendations both international and domestic.

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