|The Constitutional Court building, foreground, is seen against the backdrop of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, Thursday, a day before the eight-member bench delivers its verdict on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. / Yonhap|
Fate of Park and nation in hands of eight justices
Fate of Park and nation in hands of eight justices
By Jung Min-ho
Friday is a crucial day in the fate of President Park Geun-hye and the country.
At 11 a.m., the eight justices of the Constitutional Court will deliver a verdict on the impeachment of the President, which will be televised live.
Escorted by security guards, all the justices silently entered the court early Thursday morning for another round of deliberations.
Drafts for both upholding and rejecting the impeachment are known to have been made for security reasons. It is possible that the justices will make their decision shortly before the ruling is issued.
Acting court President Lee Jung-mi will read the ruling, and then state the reasons behind the decision. But she may switch this order as allowed for by the law.
At the ruling on the impeachment of then-President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, Yun Young-chul, who was court president at the time, gave the reasons first before reading the ruling.
This process took 25 minutes in detailing the rejection of the three charges for his impeachment.
It might take longer for President Park, who has been impeached by the National Assembly on 13 charges.
Also, unlike the previous impeachment case in which only the majority opinion (rejection) was revealed, the decisions and reasons of all justices will have to be disclosed to the public after a law revision in 2005. This is why many experts believe public opinion matters profoundly.
All eight justices were appointed during the conservative Park and Lee Myung-bak administrations, and only two of them ― Lee Jung-mi and Kim Yi-su ― are regarded as liberal.
While Seo Ki-seog and Cho Yong-ho were appointed by the current President, Lee Jin-sung and Kim Chang-jong were chosen by Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae. Ahn Chang-ho was selected by the Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the ruling Liberty Korea Party.
Kang Il-won, the only justice considered moderate, was named based on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties.
Lee Jung-mi was recommended in 2011 by then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon, who took the post during the progressive Roh administration. Kim Yi-su was picked by the Democratic United Party, the predecessor of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).
If six or more of the justices vote in favor of impeachment, President Park will be removed from her post immediately and lose all presidential privileges.
In that case, acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has to set a date for the next presidential election, which must be held within two months. The latest possible and most likely date will be May 9.
The decision also means that Park will no longer be able to dodge the investigation into her alleged criminal acts, including bribery that could put her behind bars for life.
While most of the people involved in the massive influence-peddling scandal involving her confidant Choi Soon-sil have been indicted, the President, named as an accomplice of Choi by the prosecution and an independent counselor investigating the case, has been able to avoid questioning thanks to presidential immunity from prosecution.
Leaving office in disgrace, Park will also be deprived of privileges she would have as a former president except for security services.
Under the law, former presidents are entitled to many privileges, including security services, a generous pension, an office, three assistants and free medical treatment.
If less than six of the justices vote for impeachment, Park will retain her position as head of state, which has been suspended since the National Assembly impeached her, Dec. 9.
In that case, the next presidential election will be held Dec. 20 as scheduled.
The court decision, in theory, can be appealed, but only if any “grave and obvious” procedural flaws are found in the judgment later. Most likely, the ruling will be final.
A majority of people (76.9 percent) believe the court should uphold the impeachment, while 20.3 percent are opposed to this, a survey by Realmeter, a local pollster, showed Thursday.
People in their 20s and 30s are especially in favor of the impeachment as 93.1 percent and 92.3 percent support it, respectively.
The court’s website and Facebook page have already been filled with voices for and against the impeachment. The court has also received more than 60 petitions over the ruling.
Tensions and expectations have been also rising among political parties.
Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the DPK, urged President Park to promise to accept the ruling in public to minimize social conflict.
“When former President Roh was awaiting the court ruling on his impeachment, Park asked him to declare whether he would accept the decision. Now is the time for her to do so,” he said. “What’s more worrying than the ruling is the country, which is deeply divided over the issue. As president, she is responsible for uniting the nation by promising to accept the decision no matter how it turns out.”
Rep. Joo Seung-yong, floor leader of the People’s Party, said he has no doubt that the court will make a decision that most people will agree with.
President Park’s representatives did not release any official statement, but some of them told reporters that she is just calmly awaiting the decision.
Meanwhile, police are stepping up security near the court in case of violence. Lee Chul-sung, head of the National Police Agency, has put police officers across the country on alert, ordering them to sternly respond to any illegal acts, including possible attacks on the justices.