President Park Geun-hye was formally removed from office Friday upon the Constitutional Court’s unanimous ruling to uphold the National Assembly’s impeachment vote over a corruption scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. The historic ruling came 92 days after the Assembly passed the impeachment motion, Dec. 9 last year.
Park took office Feb. 25, 2013 with a pledge to open an “era of people’s happiness.” But her presidency has been constantly marred by huge economic and diplomatic failures, only to end in unprecedented disgrace as the first-ever president to be ousted in our constitutional history.
The court’s unanimous decision to unseat Park is a reasonable outcome for several reasons. First, unlike in a previous impeachment case in 2004, the top court determined that Park committed grave law violations. The court was right in concluding that Park infringed upon the Constitution and the Public Servants Law by abusing her powers for Choi’s personal gain, and handing over confidential documents to Choi, who has no official government role.
Second, the court accused Park of concealing Choi’s interference in state affairs despite questions raised by the National Assembly and the media. The court also underlined that she showed no will to protect the Constitution, based on a series of remarks and acts Park made during the impeachment trial. She did not keep her word to cooperate with the prosecution and an independent counsel’s investigation.
Park’s supporters may disagree with the Constitutional Court’s ruling to oust Park. Two people have already died while taking part in a rally to oppose the decision. But based on the above reasons, the ruling is incontestable from the perspective of upholding the law and the Constitution. There is no fault to be found with the court’s ultimate conclusion that “the interest of guarding the Constitution by ousting Park is overwhelmingly great.” The decision will be remembered as a victory for our democracy, demonstrating that no one, not even the president, is above the law.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling came after months of candlelit protests calling for Park’s impeachment. Many people are breathing a sigh of relief that Park has finally been removed, providing momentum for the nation to get back on track. The overwhelming public opinion has been that Park should be impeached, since it became clear that she has misused her status throughout her presidency and covered up her illegal acts by saying they were performed out of “good will” for the country. Many also found it unacceptable that Park has relied heavily on Choi’s counsel in state affairs.
Building new Korea
Park’s departure from office is an occasion to initiate reforms in various sectors as the Choi scandal is a result of lingering backward practices in Korean society.
After being stripped of presidential immunity, Park must comply with the prosecution’s investigation into the corruption case. She was named an accomplice in taking bribes from Samsung in exchange for business favors after an independent counsel conducted a 90-day investigation. Some of her closest aides, including former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and former presidential economic adviser An Jong-beom, have been arrested. Park has never admitted any wrongdoing or properly apologized to the people for causing such a huge embarrassment to the country. Park should declare that she accepts the ruling fully and cooperate with further investigations from now on. The former president has no one but herself to blame for her fall from power.
Since the Choi scandal erupted, the nation has been struggling with a prolonged leadership vacuum. The nation is facing tough challenges in the economy and national security. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn should do his utmost to properly manage state affairs until Park’s successor is elected.
Under the law, Korea must hold a presidential election within 60 days. Presidential contenders should be mindful not to repeat Park’s policy failures and self-righteous governing style that alienated the people. The next presidential election should be the starting point of a new Korea.
The immediate concern for the new leader is how to unite the nation, which has been divided among those who back the president and those who have called for her impeachment.
Voters should also be careful in choosing their new leader. Park rose to power in 2012 not on her own merit but on the back of conservative nostalgia for her late father, the military dictator Park Chung-hee (1917-1979), who led the nation’s economic miracle in the 1970s. It is imperative to elect someone based on his or her experience, competence and leadership style, not on who they are related to or what part of the country they come from. The nation has already suffered enough for electing an incompetent and irresponsible leader like Park.