Park's fate in court's hands after vote for impeachment

Ms Park attending an emergency Cabinet meeting in Seoul yesterday. Behind her is South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who has stepped up as acting president. In a televised address, she apologised again for the political crisis, saying she woul
Ms Park attending an emergency Cabinet meeting in Seoul yesterday. Behind her is South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who has stepped up as acting president. In a televised address, she apologised again for the political crisis, saying she would "respond calmly" to the impeachment trial.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Ms Park attending an emergency Cabinet meeting in Seoul yesterday. Behind her is South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who has stepped up as acting president. In a televised address, she apologised again for the political crisis, saying she woul

S. Korean President's powers suspended, pushing nation into political uncertainty

President Park Geun Hye's powers have been suspended after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to impeach her over an influence-peddling scandal that has rocked South Korea and now pushed it into a period of political uncertainty.

The opposition-led motion yesterday garnered 234 support votes - more than the minimum 200 required - paving the way for the country's first female president to be removed from office if the Constitutional Court so decides, and for new elections to be held within 60 days after that.

The nine-judge Constitutional Court can take up to 180 days to deliberate on the motion.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn has meanwhile stepped up as acting president.

Ms Park, in a televised address yesterday, apologised again for the political crisis and said she would "respond calmly" to the impeachment trial and an upcoming investigation by a team of special prosecutors.

 
 
 

"I am taking the voices of the National Assembly and the people very seriously, and I sincerely hope that the current turmoil will soon be brought to an end in an orderly manner," she said.

Ms Park, 64, is the country's second president to face impeachment. The late Mr Roh Moo Hyun was impeached for illegal electioneering in 2004, but the Constitutional Court overturned that motion.

Ms Park, who took office in 2013, initially enjoyed high approval ratings, in part due to memories of her strongman father Park Chung Hee, who turned a war-torn country into Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Her fall from grace, which started with her bad handling of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, culminated in a political scandal that saw prosecutors accusing her of colluding with her close friend Choi Soon Sil to extort money from conglomerates. Choi has since been indicted.

The impeachment comes at a time of global uncertainty marked by the election of brash businessman Donald Trump as United States president and China increasingly flexing its muscle in the region.

Analysts warn that the already sputtering economy could worsen.

"The government may not be able to react to possible external headwinds properly due to the absence of leadership, so the burden will fall on the (central bank) Bank of Korea," said Dr Hyunju Kang, research fellow at local think-tank Korea Capital Market Institute.

The Constitutional Court needs to make a decision soon to end the crisis. Seoul National University's law professor Lee Jae Min said that given the gravity of the scandal, it should reach a decision within two months.

Yonsei University political science professor Moon Chung In said that while it will be "extremely difficult for the court to betray people's wishes", there is a small chance the largely conservative court could decide to restore Ms Park to power.

But if the court decides to uphold the impeachment, Ms Park will have to step down and new elections must be held within 60 days.

The latest Gallup Korea poll shows a tie between the two most popular potential candidates - United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon and opposition leader Moon Jae In - each with 20 per cent of support.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Park's fate in court's hands after vote for impeachment'. Print Edition | Subscribe