Outlook 2017 East Asia: S. Korea in need of leader who can heal nation

A protester chanting during a general strike in Seoul last month calling for President Park to step down.
A protester chanting during a general strike in Seoul last month calling for President Park to step down.PHOTO: REUTERS

This is the first of a five-part series looking at the key events and issues facing the world in 2017. Today, The Straits Times looks at East Asia and the many challenges the region faces in the coming months.

SEOUL • South Korea, mired in a political scandal that triggered massive protests and President Park Geun Hye's impeachment by Parliament, is poised to elect a new head of state earlier than planned next year.

Several polling options have already been thrown up in media reports - March, May or August instead of the originally scheduled December - if the Constitutional Court now reviewing the case decides to uphold impeachment.

A decision must be made before June 6, and if the court supports impeachment as widely expected, the next presidential election will be held within 60 days.

Analysts say it is important to choose a leader capable of uniting the people and carefully managing a weak economy, a Donald Trump presidency, rising Chinese might and the ever volatile North Korea.

"2017 will be a year when South Korea badly needs a truly good political leader... A leader who knows both economy and politics and who can lead the country forward, not backwards," said Dr Lee Seong Hyon, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute think-tank.

 

Possible candidates include outgoing United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon and opposition leader Moon Jae In, who are in a close race, according to recent opinion polls.

Moody's Analytics said in its latest report about South Korea that the outlook for employment and income is downbeat.

Dr Lee also warned of a "tremendous economic crisis", with major problems showing up from spring next year. "If the current political turmoil continues, it will be a really, really bad year," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'S. Korea in need of leader who can heal nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe