President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment was upheld by South Korea’s Constitutional Court at 11:23 a.m. Seoul time, Friday, formally removing Park from the presidency.
The next South Korean presidential election will likely to be held in early May, and the Minjoo Party’s Moon Jae-in remains the frontrunner, according to the latest polls.
“Thus, the judges with a unanimous opinion will sentence (Park’s impeachment),” Lee Jung-mi, acting president of the South Korean Constitutional Court said, after reading a 20-minute long final judgment on why Park’s impeachment was upheld unanimously by the court.
U.S. officials told Yonhap News Agency that they are looking forward to “productive relationship” with next South Korean president.
“We respect the verdict from the Constitutional Court and accept the result,” a spokesperson for Park’s party, Liberty Korea – formally known as Saenuri – in a statement after the verdict was announced.
Park is the first South Korean President to have been formally impeached.
Park Geun-hye has been embroiled in scandal since October last year, when it was alleged that she had allowed a close friend to have extensive influence on government policy.
Choi Soon-sil is said to have used her links to the Presidency for personal financial gain, and allegedly pressured major South Korean companies to donate to foundations she controlled.
Over a million South Koreans are believed to have participating in mass protests across the country and, under significant public pressure, Park Geun-hye offered her resignation on November 29, confirming Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn as acting President – and leaving the National Assembly to decide her fate.
The National Assembly passed an impeachment bill on December 9 last year, leaving South Korea’s Constitutional Court to approve – or disapprove – of Park’s official dismissal.
Today’s announcement from Constitutional Court puts an end to a three-month legal process and puts South Korea in “presidential election mode,” an expert said.
“By law, the next South Korean election must be held within 60 days since the impeachment,” Choi Sungsik, a Seoul-based lawyer, and longtime politics watcher told NK News.
“As there are many South Korean holidays on the first week of May, the chances are high that the election will be held on May 9, 60 days after impeachment.”
Under normal circumstances, there would be around 70 days after an election before the President-elect starts their term, but because the next one is being held because of a vacancy, the next President-elect will start their term a day after an election, Choi said.
Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn will continue in his post until then, while Park Geun-hye will be most likely prosecuted in a few weeks, Choi argued.
“As Park Geun-hye no longer has immunity to the criminal prosecution, she can be arrested and imprisoned at any time. Chances are high of her being prosecuted sometime before the end of this month.”
“She will no longer receive salary and is obligated to leave the Presidential residence. Security service will be provided, but she will not receive a pension and won’t be able to hire a secretary to help her after the presidency.”
A change of power in South Korea this May may offer more “diplomatic transparency” for the next South Korean government, no matter who gets elected, another expert said.
“Whoever gets elected as the next South Korean president, turning over the agreement, such as the deployment of THAAD will be extremely hard,” Cha Du-hyeogn, a former intelligence secretary to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, told NK News.
“At least, Washington and Beijing will now be able to start a relationship with the South Korean government they know what to expect from.”
Currently, the most likely candidate to win the next South Korean presidency is Moon Jae-in from the opposition Minjoo Party, a long-time friend of former President Roh Moo-hyun, who worked as Chief Presidential Secretary during Roh’s term.
A Friday poll from Gallup Korea showed that 32 percent of South Koreans support Moon Jae-in as the next President, while 17 percent said they would prefer Ahn Hee-jung, the Governor of Chungcheongnam-do Province, also a Minjoo member.
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