Park’s impeachment looms large

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Park’s impeachment looms large

With prosecutors labeling President Park Geun-hye a suspect in ongoing criminal investigations, the public is waiting to see whether the Constitutional Court will support a motion to impeach Park, should it pass through the National Assembly.

In the aftermath of the prosecutors identifying Park as co-conspirator in a number of schemes orchestrated by Choi and Park’s former presidential aides, major political heavyweights from the opposition bloc agreed on Sunday to push for an impeachment motion against Park, which requires a two-thirds vote by the 300-member Assembly.

Since the opposition bloc commands the loyalties of 165 lawmakers and there are six independents leaning toward the opposition, 171 votes are thought to be guaranteed in what will be the second parliamentary vote on an impeachment against a president.

Should the Assembly manage to pass the motion by securing 29 “yes” votes from the governing Saenuri Party, the Constitutional Court will then rule on whether the motion carries with it the legal justification to remove Park from office, a process that could take up to six months.

A study into the Constitutional Court’s 2004 decision to dismiss an impeachment against then-President Roh Moo-hyun offers some insight into what legal considerations the nine-member court may weigh.

Roh was impeached by the opposition bloc, which included the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri, for having expressed his hope during a televised briefing that voters would cast ballots for members of his party, an act of illegal electioneering.

Following 64 days of deliberation, however, the Constitutional Court struck down the motion, bringing Roh back to power after a two-month absence.

In its deliberation 12 years ago, the court defined the purpose of impeachment against a president as a process meant to hold a president accountable for legal violations in order to ensure the constitutional rule of law.

While the court acknowledged Roh had violated law by breaching political neutrality, his violation did not amount to an act grave enough to pose a “threat to the democratic rule of law in the land.”

In their deliberation, the court stated that a decision to remove a president from office should be justified in “limited circumstances where the maintenance of the presidential office can no longer be permitted from the standpoint of the protection of the Constitution, or where the president has lost qualification to administrate state affairs by betraying the trust of the people.”

The court did not see Roh’s electioneering as having led to the loss of public trust nor his qualification as head of state.

The court also stipulated that a president should only be ousted for reasons of such gravity that they can justify the enormous aftermath of a president being forced from office.

The court will therefore likely balance the potential ramifications of Park’s removal with her criminal acts, which have led to the public’s loss of trust in her ability to lead, as evidenced by the fact that her approval rating has been at five percent for three straight weeks now, according to polls by Gallup Korea, the lowest rating for any Korean president.

The court also stipulated in 2004 that an impeachment should be based on legal violations that took place after president has taken office, not before.

All charges against Choi Soon-sil and the two former presidential aides, allegedly committed in collusion with Park, occurred after Park took office in February 2013.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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