Now would be a good time to start praying for our friends in South Korea.
After months of rumors, breathless news stories, and investigations, South Korea’s President has been forcibly removed from office. On Friday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously upheld the decision by lawmakers to impeach and remove President Park Geun-hye from office. The court affirmed the decision to impeach and found the President guilty of abusing her position to help a friend raise donations from companies seeking to do business with the South Korean government. (A scandal that sounds an awful lot like the one that has been swirling around Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation for well over a year.) “We announce the decision as the unanimous opinion of all judges. We dismiss the defendant President Park,” said Justice Lee Jung-mi.
While the court may have been right in affirming the decision of the legislature to remove the President from office, the decision nonetheless sent the nation reeling. Hundreds of thousands of protesters poured out onto South Korea’s streets, as the entire nation began to pulsate with a chaotic energy. Sadly, two people have already died in the chaos and authorities are working hard to make sure no one else is injured.
The country’s Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach Park over allegations of corruption and cronyism. She becomes the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forcibly removed.
Two died amid chaotic scenes in the capital, Seoul. Thousands demonstrated after the unanimous decision by eight judges was read out down in a live broadcast that gripped the nation.
The decision brings the career of South Korea’s first female president to an inglorious end. It also comes at a pivotal moment for the region, as North Korea ramps up its nuclear weapons testing program.
The political unrest will have ramifications here in the United States as well. President Park leaned to the right and could be counted on to support U.S. policies in dealing with North Korea and China, however the next administration may not be as accommodating.
With Park’s ouster, South Korea will hold a snap election within 60 days in what is guaranteed be a campaign frenzy. Opinion polls so far show the left-leaning Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in 2012, as the front-runner.
Liberals in South Korea typically favor a more conciliatory approach with Pyongyang, and many oppose the US missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which is designed to intercept incoming missiles, conceivably from North Korea.
Meanwhile, conservatives such as Park have retained a more hawkish view on North Korea and generally support US policies, including THAAD.
“If progressives take power, I do think issues like THAAD and North Korea policy could be on the table, which would have huge consequences for the US right now,” said David Kang, director of the University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute.
After nine years of conservative leadership and a scandal-marred Park presidency, South Korea may be signaling it’s ready for a change. The conservatives lost their majority in a shock defeat in parliamentary elections last year.
New leadership in Seoul could mark a shift on two key issues in US and South Korea relations — the missile defense system and the position on North Korea.
The situation is volatile and while we should celebrate the rooting out of corruption, the chaos comes at a bad time, just days after North Korea launched a series of missiles in a test run for an attack on the U.S. and our allies in the Far East. Whatever the people of South Korea decide in the next two months, let’s hope that the transition happens swiftly and safely, and that the new administration will work to find common ground with the Trump administration’s policies in Asia.