|Park Geun-hye will go down in history as the first democratically-elected Korean President to be forced out of office after the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled in favor of her impeachment, Friday. / Korea Times file|
By Jung Min-ho
Court delivers unanimous verdict on impeachment of Park Geun-hye
By Jung Min-ho
The Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, Friday, in a historic ruling to remove her from office over a corruption scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil.
The court’s decision was unanimous, with all eight justices voting for her ouster from Cheong Wa Dae for good, putting an end to Korea’s leadership crisis for the past 92 days.
The verdict, announced by acting court President Lee Jung-mi in a live broadcast, made her the first-ever Korean president to be removed from power through impeachment.
The court said the decision was based on the fact that she abused her power to allow Choi to reap personal gains and permitted her to meddle in state affairs.
“President Park impaired the spirit of democracy and the rule of law,” Lee said in the ruling. “In regard to the protection of the Constitution, the benefits of removing her far outweigh those of keeping her in power, given the negative effects and seriousness of her actions.”
Lee also noted that impeaching the President was “not a matter of ideology, but of protecting constitutional order.”
On the charges brought against Park, the court accepted her involvement in actively helping Choi, who took advantage of their friendship for personal gains throughout her presidency.
“As a government official who is obligated to keep confidential information about work, she neglected her duty by leaking many documents containing such information to Choi … Park also infringed on the property rights and managerial freedom of private companies by forcing them to help her create and operate the Mir and K-Sports foundations,” Lee said. “Park’s actions cannot be regarded as part of performing her duties. They are an abuse of her power as president and violations of the Constitution and the law.”
Park had chances to put things right many times when her illegal conduct was revealed by the media and the National Assembly, but instead of solving the problem, she tried to hide it ― until she no longer could.
“Judging from her words and actions, she has no will to defend the Constitution,” the court said. “Her violations of the Constitution and the law are a betrayal of the people’s trust and cannot be tolerated.”
But the court dismissed other charges, including abusing her power to remove high-ranking government officials and even a media company president from their posts simply for being uncooperative, citing a lack of evidence.
Also regarding her absence while the ferry Sewol was sinking, which resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, the court said her failure in duty to protect the people as the head of state cannot be a sufficient reason for impeachment, although it did show her incompetence.
The verdict brings an abrupt and dramatic end to her four years in office. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn must set a date for the next presidential election, which has to be held within 60 days. The latest possible and most likely date will be May 9.
The removal of Park from the presidency came after millions of people took to the streets to hold candlelit rallies calling for her to step down over the last four months.
Moon Jae-in, the most popular presidential hopeful who lost in the previous election to Park in 2012, said, “The ruling reaffirms the Constitution that states all the power comes from the people. Now is the time to unite people with love for the country.”
The United States, Korea’s most important ally for security, also reacted to the news, saying through a State Department spokesman it will continue to “look forward to a productive relationship with whomever the people of South Korea elect to be their next President.”
The verdict also means that Park, who lost her presidential immunity from prosecution, will no longer be able to dodge the investigation into her alleged criminal acts, including bribery that could put her in prison for life.
Though unlikely, prosecutors can immediately request an arrest warrant for Park, who has already been named as an accomplice of Choi.
Most of the people involved in the influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving Choi have been indicted; while Park refused to be questioned behind the walls of Cheong Wa Dae.
Leaving office in disgrace, Park has also been deprived of all the privileges she would otherwise have as a former president except for security services.
In theory, the verdict can be appealed, but only if any “grave and obvious” procedural flaws are found in the judgment. Most likely, the decision will stand.
After the ruling, Seo Seok-gu, one of Park’s lawyers, expressed regret, saying he did not think the decision was right. But when asked if his comment meant Park would not accept the ruling, he said it was just his opinion.