High security ahead of South Korea President Park Geun Hye's impeachment verdict

Police on guard outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul. Today's verdict follows three months of hearings and investigation.
Police on guard outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul. Today's verdict follows three months of hearings and investigation.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
South Koreans shouting slogans and holding banners reading 'Park Geun Hye Impeachment' during a rally against South Korean President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
South Koreans shouting slogans and holding banners reading 'Park Geun Hye Impeachment' during a rally against South Korean President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: EPA
South Koreans shouting slogans and holding banners reading 'Park Geun Hye Impeachment' during a rally against South Korean President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
South Koreans shouting slogans and holding banners reading 'Park Geun Hye Impeachment' during a rally against South Korean President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: EPA
A woman crying during a protest against South Korean President Park Geun Hye.
A woman crying during a protest against South Korean President Park Geun Hye.PHOTO: REUTERS
People attending a protest against South Korean President Park Geun Hye.
People attending a protest against South Korean President Park Geun Hye.PHOTO: REUTERS
A pro-government activist holding a portrait of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye to oppose the impeachment of the President in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
A pro-government activist holding a portrait of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye to oppose the impeachment of the President in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: AFP
Pro-government activists waving national flags during a rally opposing the impeachment of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
Pro-government activists waving national flags during a rally opposing the impeachment of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: AFP
A pro-government activist waving a national flag showing a portrait of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye during a rally opposing the impeachment of the President near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
A pro-government activist waving a national flag showing a portrait of South Korea's President Park Geun Hye during a rally opposing the impeachment of the President near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: AFP
A supporter of South Korean President Park Geun Hye attending a protest near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
A supporter of South Korean President Park Geun Hye attending a protest near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS
Supporters of South Korean President Park Geun Hye attending a protest near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.
Supporters of South Korean President Park Geun Hye attending a protest near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

Public opinion leans heavily towards Park's removal, analysts say verdict hard to predict

South Korean police have raised their alert level to the highest ahead of President Park Geun Hye's impeachment verdict today, with polls saying that most South Koreans want her out of office.

Ms Park's political fate lies in the hands of the Constitutional Court, which will announce its decision at 10am Singapore time, after three months of hearings and investigations. She was impeached by Parliament last December over a corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving a close confidante.

Analysts say the outcome is hard to predict, although public opinion leans heavily towards impeachment - recent polls show that over 70 per cent of people want her out.

Said law professor Lee Jae Min at Seoul National University: "Honestly, it can go either way. The people's reaction is well known, but this is still a legal procedure and I am not sure if all the legal issues... have been cleared for the court to rule for impeachment."

He added that the judges have to be careful because of the highly sensitive nature of the case. For Ms Park to be impeached, at least six of the court's current eight judges must support it.

 

If impeached, Ms Park will be stripped of her powers and booted out of office with immediate effect. She will have to vacate the presidential Blue House and perhaps return to her private residence in the upscale Gangnam district.

Professor Lee said: "She needs a reasonable amount of time, two to three days, to clear her office, pack up, and maybe to cry."

  • 70%

    Most South Koreans want Ms Park out of office

  • 60

    Number of days within which a new president must be elected

A new president will be elected within 60 days. Until then, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn is expected to continue as acting president.

Pundits have already thrown up an election date - May 9, exactly 60 days from today. According to the latest opinion polls, presidential hopeful Moon Jae In, former chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, still has a strong lead.

But Ms Park, who has denied all wrongdoing, is not expected to leave the Blue House without a fight. Questions remain over whether she will be formally charged with bribery and abuse of power, among others, after losing immunity from indictment.

An impeached president will also lose privileges given to former heads of state, including a lifetime pension, a driver, three assistants, and free medical service.

Prof Lee said it is unlikely that prosecutors will press criminal charges against Ms Park, although the opposition may continue to demand it for political reasons.

"In the minds of the Korean public, impeachment is almost like a death penalty for any president, and that is sufficient," he added.

If the court rules against impeachment, Ms Park's suspended powers will be restored immediately - and she will find many urgent issues awaiting her attention, including China's retaliation to the deployment of an American missile shield.

Whatever the outcome, protests are likely to continue. Park supporters, especially, have swelled in numbers to rival anti-Park protesters.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'High security ahead of court ruling'. Print Edition | Subscribe