RoK in political turmoil

Thursday, 2017-03-16 10:07:43
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Judges at the impeachment ruling at the Constitutional Court on March 10. (Photo: Yonhap)
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NDO - The tense situation in the Republic of Korea (ROK) resulting from the political scandal has temporarily cooled down after the country’s constitutional court upheld a parliamentary vote on March 10 to impeach President Park Geun-hye as well as remove her immunity from prosecution over corruption claims. However, the aftershocks have shown signs of political instability and social unrest. The next president of the Green House must prioritise two urgent tasks: strengthening people's trust and uniting the country.

The historic ruling of the Constitutional Court made Park Geun-hye the first democratically elected president of the RoK to be forced out of office. She will immediately forfeit the executive immunity she enjoyed as president, meaning prosecutors can summon, question and possibly arrest her. The prosecution plans to summon former President Park Geun-hye, who has lost her presidential immunity, for questioning as early as this week concerning 13 criminal charges related to bribery and corruption levelled against her.

A special team of 31 prosecutors will endeavour to reveal the truth behind the major corruption scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil. Park Geun-hye’s impeachment came after months of deeply damaging revelations about her relationship with Choi Soon-sil, a long-time friend with whom she is suspected of conspiring to secure donations worth tens of millions of dollars from major companies for foundations set up by Choi.

The fate of this leader will be determined by law, but the scandal has wounded the RoK, causing a huge political crisis and serious social divisions. While many in the crowd celebrated, thousands of Park’s supporters reacted angrily to the verdict, striking police officers with flag poles and climbing on buses that were being used to form a barricade around the court. ROK media reported that two people died during scuffles with the authorities.

A man in his 70s, believed to be a Park supporter, reportedly died from head injuries after falling from a police bus. Another man is believed to have died after hospital staff administered CPR. The Police are investigating 87 people for 67 violent incidents in protests since October, when the scandal broke out. The acting president and Prime Minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, who took charge in December after Park’s powers were frozen, called on his administration to close the deep divisions that the scandal had created among people.

The RoK is now busy preparing for the election ahead of time. The ruling Liberty Korea Party is still unable to vote for a leader with enough credibility to overcome the recent “shock”. This is an opportunity for liberal politicians to find their way back to power after nearly ten years of conservative factions. According to the latest poll, Democratic Party of Korea chief Moon Jae-in continues to be the favourite candidate for the presidency, and unless there is a sudden turn of events, it is likely that the election will result in a reversal in Korean politics.

No matter who or which party takes power in the new tenure, so much work is needed to be done in order to keep “peace at home and aboard”. Domestically, the new leadership board has to shoulder the heavy burden of securing peace and solidarity, in addition to the difficult task of bringing the economy back on track. Lengthy instability is one reason for the RoK’s economic stagnation. The statistics office said that GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2016 was 0.4%, down 0.2% from the previous quarter and the lowest level in 18 months while the unemployment rate in February hit a record-high in seven years.

On the external front, the new government will have to deal with complicated issues after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea repeatedly tested missiles and nuclear weapons to protest joint exercises between the United States and the RoK. In addition, the relationship between China and the RoK is tense after Beijing has vowed to take revenge on Seoul for its deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system of the US in the RoK.