Tuesday, 13 December 2016

SOUTH KOREA: Ms Park's downfall

The photos of tens thousands protesters, honking, chanting have become the image of South Korea since October. On Saturday in Seoul, the scene of huge demonstrations in recent weeks, tens of thousands of protesters demanded that Ms Park resign immediately.

Last week lawmakers pressed the conglomerate's heads over their links to Ms Park's confidante Choi Soon Sil, who used her presidential ties to shake down the country's biggest business groups for donations.

Prosecutors claimed that Mr Choi used aides from presidential Blue House to squeeze the conglomerates, known as ''Chaebols'', including the Samsung, Hyundai and LG business groups, for donations to two foundations she allegedly controlled. Prosecutors say Ms Park helped Ms Choi in the scheme.

Both Ms Park and Ms Choi denied the allegations but the scandal has dragged down Ms Park's approval ratings to historic lows to her impeachment and driven millions of demonstrators into the streets of Seoul, calling for her to resign over the past six weeks.

Ms Park's downfall complicates life for South Korea's sprawling conglomerate, whose alleged involvement in the scandal has led to fresh calls to curb their power.

After the impeachment vote, Ms Park's powers were suspended and acting Prime Minister Hwang Kyo ahn, a staunch ally, was made acting president. In a public address, Mr Hwang said the government would strive to maintain rock solid security readiness against North Korea and reaffirmed the alliance with the US. Two thirds of the 300 member National Assembly voted to impeach Ms Park.

In the coming months, South Korea's Constitutional Court will consider whether to endorse Ms Park's impeachment and remove her permanently. If it votes to do so, South Korea will have 60 days to hold an election for a new president.

The impeachment marks a dramatic downfall for a leader that took office in 2013 pledging to break from the frat-tinged administrations that preceded her. It also adds uncertainty for its US ally as new administration in Washington reconsiders its relationships in Asia, especially with China.

The impeachment leaves Ms Park in limbo, not able to exercise her executive powers but not losing her title, until the country nine members Constitutional Court rules on validity of the impeachment vote. The Court has 180 days to decide but it is likely that the Court would decide within days or weeks.

If six members of the Constitutional Court assent, Ms Park would be forced to step down and a new election would be required within 60 days. If six members fail to assent, then the National Assembly's vote would be overturned and Ms Park would be reinstated as president.

During the last impeachment crisis in 2004, the National Assembly's vote against then President Roh Moo Hyun was overturned by the Constitutional Court. In that case, the impeachment over a relatively minor technicality was met with anger by a public that sympathized with Mr Roh.

This time around, Ms Park's near universal unpopularity would likely put pressure on the Court to assent to the legislature's vote. But the Constitutional Court's deliberations are complicated by the impending retirements of two judges in January and March, It is unclear whether those vacancies could be filled by Ms Park or an acting president.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-photo of Ms Park