A welcome deadline

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A welcome deadline

Constitutional Court Chief Justice Park Han-chul said Wednesday that the nine-member bench should reach a final ruling on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye over an unprecedented abuse of power scandal before March 13. We welcome his announcement as it will determine not only the fate of President Park but also the schedule of the next presidential election if Park is indeed removed from office. The chief justice’s determination also matches the people’s growing desire to end all the chaos and confusion from the presidential impeachment as soon as possible.

The March 13 deadline is appropriate in terms of procedural legitimacy as well. No doubt it would be much better if all of nine justices participate in deliberations before reaching a verdict. But after Chief Justice Park retires on Jan. 31 and Justice Lee Jung-mi steps down on March 13, only seven judges remain in the top court. To reach a ruling to dismiss a president, the approval of two thirds of the nine judges — or six — is required. If six justices approve of Park’s dismissal from her presidency — or if two justices oppose it — it could lead to controversy and trigger disobedience from either side of the political divide. Disobedience will surely aggravate the existing political polarization in our society. Therefore, it would be best for eight judges — excepting Chief Justice Park — to reach a final ruling before the March 13 deadline.

In terms of timing too, the March 13 deadline carries significance. Because of all the uncertainties about the political future of President Park, we repeatedly stress a strong need to reach a final ruling as soon as possible to stabilize the country. If the highest court delays its deliberations, that will only fuel confusion. Therefore, we welcome the court’s decision to fix a deadline for its final ruling no matter what decision it makes before the deadline.

In the lead-up to the ruling, President Park’s cooperation is necessary. She has been dragging her feet in appearing at the office of independent counsel Park Young-soo by insisting on the right to defend herself. President Park seems to be betting on the possibility that her impeachment would be dismissed if only two justices oppose, provided only seven judges were on the bench after March 13. But a growing number of people do not want to see such a side of the president.

Korea faces a serious crisis. The future of our country rests on the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Park’s destiny. Now is the time for citizens to calmly watch the judicial process and accept whatever ruling it delivers.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 26, Page 26
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