Im­peach­ment cri­sis: What hap­pens now?

Park loses power, but keeps her ti­tle, the Blue House and salary

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Seoul

The South Korean Par­lia­ment’s suc­cess­ful im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye on Fri­day will do lit­tle, in the short term, to al­le­vi­ate the deep sense of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty that has gripped the na­tion for months.

The im­peach­ment process, trig­gered by a snow­balling cor­rup­tion scan­dal, could still have months to run be­fore Park fi­nally leaves of­fice, and there is even a chance she could re­main in power.

Here are an­swers to just some of the ques­tions thrown up by the big­gest po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in South Korea for a gen­er­a­tion.

Is Park now the ex-pres­i­dent?

No. The adop­tion of the im­peach­ment mo­tion means that Park’s sweep­ing ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers are sus­pended and trans­ferred to her prime min­is­ter.

But she will re­tain her ti­tle and re­main in the pres­i­den­tial Blue House while the Con­sti­tu­tional Court con­sid­ers whether her im­peach­ment is valid or not — a process that could take up to six months.

If the court con­firms im­peach­ment, then she will be im­me­di­ately and per­ma­nently re­moved from of­fice.

If it re­jects the mo­tion, then the sus­pen­sion of her pow­ers will be lifted and she can tech­ni­cally con­tinue as pres­i­dent un­til the nat­u­ral end of her five-year term in early 2018.

Which way is the court likely to rule?

On pa­per, the court might be ex­pected to fa­vor Park. All its nine jus­tices were ap­pointed by her or her con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sor and a two-thirds ma­jor­ity is re­quired to con­firm her im­peach­ment.

But public opin­ion is hugely in fa­vor of re­mov­ing the pres­i­dent, with the most re­cent opin­ion polls show­ing sup­port for im­peach­ment run­ning at around 80 per­cent.

So the jus­tices will be un­der ex­treme pres­sure to up­hold Par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion, espe­cially as the op­po­si­tion-spon­sored mo­tion was adopted with the sup­port of a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of law­mak­ers from Park’s own rul­ing Saenuri Party.

What hap­pens in the mean­time?

The court must reach a de­ci­sion within 180 days, but will be un­der pres­sure to rule quickly given the po­ten­tial dam­age of con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty.

In the in­terim, Park’s pres­i­den­tial pow­ers tech­ni­cally pass to Prime Min­is­ter Hwang Kyo- ahn — an un­elected of­fi­cial ap­pointed by Park in May 2015.

Hwang is not pop­u­lar with the public and does not have the sup­port of the op­po­si­tion par­ties who con­trol par­lia­ment and would likely block any at­tempt by Hwang to ex­tend his author­ity beyond ba­sic acts of daily gov­er­nance.

And if the court val­i­dates im­peach­ment?

Then Park is out for good and a fresh pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will have to be held within 60 days — an event nei­ther the rul­ing or op­po­si­tion par­ties are par­tic­u­larly pre­pared for.

Opin­ion polls cur­rently fa­vor Moon Jae-in of the main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party who lost to Park in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial bal­lot, but his sup­port base is be­ing un­der­mined by Lee Jae-myung, the lib­eral mayor of Seong­nam who has rid­den the pop­ulist wave of anti-Park sen­ti­ment with scathing at­tacks on the pres­i­dent dur­ing the cur­rent cri­sis.

Another clear fron­trun­ner would be UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon who has pro­fessed an in­ter­est in re­turn­ing to South Korean pol­i­tics after his UN term ends at the end of the year.

What will be the longterm le­gacy of the cri­sis?

As well as the public’s per­sonal an­tipa­thy to Park, the cor­rup­tion scan­dal and en­su­ing cri­sis has lifted the lid on grow­ing dis­con­tent with in­come dis­par­i­ties, ris­ing unem­ploy­ment and the ap­par­ently pam­pered lives of South Korea’s po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness elite.

The scan­dal has shone a fresh spot­light on the un­sa­vory ties be­tween pol­i­tics and com­merce that were par­tially blamed for the 2014 Se­wol ferry tragedy that claimed more than 300 lives.

The mas­sive anti-Park demon­stra­tions have called for a new era of cleaner pol­i­tics and for re­forms to make the coun­try’s gi­ant, fam­ily-run con­glom­er­ates more trans­par­ent and ac­count­able.

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