Why chances of Park’s ouster are high

A man looks at photos of former President Park Chung-hee, front, the father of President Park Geun-hye, and former President Roh Moo-hyun, at the Presidential Archives in Sejong, Thursday, on the eve of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. Roh survived impeachment in 2004. / Yonhap

By Kim Rahn

President Park Geun-hye

Some people have questioned the fairness of the impeachment trial for President Park Geun-hye largely because there have yet been no legal judgments about her alleged wrongdoings that led to her impeachment.

But this perception stems from a misunderstanding between an impeachment trial and a criminal trial and the function of the Constitutional Court in the nation’s legal system.

While a criminal trial is to decide on punishment based on the credibility of evidence, an impeachment trial is to decide whether the president ― or other high-ranking officials including ministers ― is qualified for the post. The Law on the Constitutional Court states “an impeachment decision does not exempt the person from civil or criminal liability,” meaning the impeachment trial and a related civil or criminal trial are two separate things.

So what matters in Park’s impeachment trial is not whether there is objective evidence of her illegalities but whether she abided by the Constitution in carrying out her duties, and is still eligible to continue her job as the president. In the impeachment trial for former President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, the court said a president is impeached when he or she loses qualification to take charge of state affairs, adding it is a matter of public trust, not a matter of guilt or innocence.

Kang Il-won, presiding justice of the trial, also kept saying during hearings that an impeachment trial is different from a criminal trial, indicating the trial does not require strict proof of evidence as in criminal cases.

Considering these, it can be said that the chances of Park’s ouster are pretty high because 234 out of 300 members of the legislature voted for the impeachment and 80 percent of the people want her removal.

In the proceedings, the court classified the causes of the impeachment into five categories: violating sovereignty of the people and representative democracy by allowing her friend Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state-affairs; abusing power by extorting money from conglomerates for Choi-controlled foundations; violating her duty to protect people’s right to life in the Sewol ferry sinking; infringing on freedom of speech by preventing reports on corruption allegations involving her aides; and accepting bribes from companies.

Except for the last category of bribery, the remaining four are violations of the Constitution.

Park and her defense team have not denied “facts” in the allegations. For example, she admits her involvement in urging companies to cough up 77.4 billion won for Choi’s foundations. But she claimed that it was part of a “policy” to boost the culture and sports industries; the companies “voluntarily donated” the money; and the funds were not bribes.

However, even if the fundraising does not constitute accepting bribes under criminal law, the Constitutional Court can still recognize it as the President’s abuse of power and decide to unseat her.

Regarding Choi’s meddling in the appointment of people to high-profile posts including ministers and ambassadors, Park did not deny this but only said “anybody can make recommendations.” But many believe that allowing Choi, who has never held a government position, to intervene in state and personnel affairs is against the sovereignty of the people, representative democracy, and the National Public Service Law.

Park’s alleged absence from duty for seven hours on the day of the Sewol ferry sinking is about the violation of her duty to protect people’s lives. If it were a criminal trial, the prosecution would have to prove Park was derelict in her duty. But it is not a criminal case, so the court asked Park to explain actively what she was doing during the hours, which she failed to do.

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