It looked like the statement made by Park Geun-hye on her possible resignation had caused discord within the ruling party, but most deputies of the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly voted for the impeachment on December 9.
In theory, if the entire faction of the ruling party voted against the impeachment arguing for an honorable discharge, it would not happen; however, more than a half of the Saenuri Party deputies supported it. Some of them did so in order to “take into account the people’s opinion“. Others – due to the faction struggle, as the desire to knock a competitor was too strong. In addition, some of them decided that the party did not need the image of Park’s supporters and to get rid of this image, they started to scream about certain things louder than the opposition.
After the announcement of the voting results, the President’s powers were suspended. Park Geun-hye submitted apologies to the people once again and promised to cooperate with the Constitutional Court and the special prosecutor. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn took up the official duties as the country’s head. “I accept the decision of the Parliament and the people with regret and pain … I ask the Prime Minister and the government to take control over the country in this serious and difficult time pending a decision by the court.“
Immediately after the announcement of the voting results, the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Korea invited ambassadors of the USA, Japan, China, Russia, and the European Union states. They were notified that the major lines of the country’s foreign policy would remain the same and the foreign policy measures adopted by the former leadership of the country, including the sanctions against North Korea and pressure on Pyongyang, would still be in place.
Washington responded quickly. According to the official statement made by the National Security Council of the White House, the USA continues to be a reliable ally, friend, and a partner of the Republic of Korea. Washington expects the acting Korean President to conduct consistent and coherent policy, while the American party will continue to implement its adopted obligations, especially those in respect of the protection from the threat of the North. According to spokesperson of the US National Security Council Emily Horne, the South Koreans have been acting “peacefully, calmly, and responsibly, in accordance with democratic principles“ during the entire period of the political changes. Thus, the USA hopes for close cooperation with Hwang Kyo-ahn, and the alliance of Washington and Seoul will remain “the pillar of the regional stability and security.”
On December 11, Hwang Kyo-ahn took office as the President, visited the Joint Chiefs of Staff and immediately played the North Korean “card“. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may take advantage of the political situation in the South by organizing provocative acts. Thus, no weakening in the security system is allowed. On December 12, he held a meeting on domestic policy issues and highlighted the importance of solving economic problems by urging the ministers to treat their job responsibly and seriously.
According to the statement by the Minister of Strategy and Finance Yoo Il-ho as of December 11, the economic situation has started to improve, and the impeachment has not affected the South Korean economy. The government will continue controlling the national economy through cooperation with the corresponding authorities; the South Korean stock exchange indices in the global financial market remain stable. On December 12, trading on the Korean stock exchange opened with growth of the major stock indices.
The general population celebrated the impeachment in a festive spirit, out on the streets with music and fireworks, which according to the organizers involved 800 thousand people in the capital and more than one million countrywide (the police give data of 120 and 170 thousand).
As for Park Geun-hye, the Constitutional Court will decide her fate. She is still in the Blue House under protection as a top official. However, the President only receives reports on what is happening and has no right to make any decisions.
On December 12, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea started the hearing of the case by primarily considering the technical issues. It will have to gather data separately from the group of the special prosecutor. Therefore, Park Geun-hye was obliged to provide written answers to the questions by December 16. Meanwhile, Park Geun-hye has formed a group of lawyers to represent her interests. The group includes her current attorney Yoo Yeong-ha and the former head of the Korean Lawyers Association Chae Myung-son.
How long will the court hearing take and what will be the result? Officially, it takes a maximum of 6 months. In the case of Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, it took two months to cancel the impeachment. It is easier to focus on the facts that may affect the process anyhow.
The Chairperson of the Constitutional Court Park Han-Chul took office less than two months ago, which causes doubts that the case will be considered quickly.
In comparison with the previous case, the situation is more complicated. The charges against Park are more serious than those against Roh, and making the decision will require more time.
- The decision-making procedure may change. Earlier, the judges voted secretly, and it gave them a certain freedom of movement. Now, there is a high probability that the voting will be open, and each judge should publicly explain his/her choice to the people. Of course, it significantly increases the risk that a judge, who “does not follow the will of the Korean people,“ may become the object of persecution and hatred, and this greatly increases the guarding reflex typical for this level of officials.
- In addition, the parliamentary elections took place between the impeachment of Roh Moo-hyun and the decision of the Constitutional Court. Roh’s supporters gained an impressive majority of votes, and this strongly changed the official distribution of political forces, and urged the judges “to hover around the Party line“.
In any case, even if this exciting story has not come to an end, “a small victory,” which is important for all, has still been achieved. The right-wingers have kept their Prime Minister, as the new one has not been appointed amid the political crisis, and the left-wingers may score themselves a win with a successful impeachment.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“