South Korea’s Constitutional Court voted unanimously on Friday morning to remove Park Geun-Hye from office.
The National Assembly had already voted 234 to 56 in favor of Park’s impeachment last December.
The now former president was involved in a scandal centred on her relationship with Choi Soon-Sil, an old friend whose father had considerable influence on Park in her younger years.
According to various sources, Choi had access to classified information. She had also allegedly been involved in cult activities, and wielded considerable influence in the corporate sector.
Choi’s father, Choi Tae-Min, became close with Park following the assassination of her mother by a North Korean spy in 1974. He used his influence over Park to amass great wealth for himself and his children.
Park’s father, former president Park Jung-Hee was assassinated in 1979 by then head of Korea’s intelligence agency, and it is thought that Park’s relationship with the elder Choi was a defining factor.
The obvious question now remains where the country will go from here. Now that the decision has been rendered official, a new election for president should be held within the next sixty days, with unofficial reports suggesting it will be May 9.
The front running candidate is Moon Jae-in, the current leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). It is thought he could win the election given the current political climate and with the ruling Saenuri Party without a clear opposition candidate.
Former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon was thought to be a potential candidate, but he has already stated that he will not run.
Whatever the case may be, the incoming administration will be faced with a number of pressing issues, including how to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea (including the highly controversial deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system), bringing the large family owned conglomerates known as “chaebol” under control, reducing unemployment, addressing Korea’s massive aging population, and ongoing hopes of reunifying the Korean Peninsula.
As the leading candidate, Moon has stated he would like to re-establish closer relations with the North, notably by establishing an economic union between the two countries. He has also said he would like to hold off on the deployment of THAAD.
Moon’s economic vision includes the two Koreas becoming part of the “3080 club” - 80 million consumers with a per capita GDP of $30,000.
At first glance, this sounds like a variation of former president Lee Myung-Bak’s 747 plan, in which he pledged Korea would become the seventh strongest economy in the world, with an annual growth rate of seven percent, and a per capita GDP of $40,000 - all of which fell short of expectations.
And the cost of reunification - if it ever should happen - would be extremely high. It could potentially destabilize Korea’s economy for years to come. Realistically speaking, reunification is currently impossible, and will remain so at least until the Kim family is out of power.
The deployment of THAAD is aimed to combat the nuclear threat posed by the North, and with the recent missile tests only weeks ago, the missile defense system should be a top priority, regardless of opposition from Russia, China, as well as a number of people here in Korea.
South Korea now faces a very uncertain future. How the incoming administration deals with the issues at hand remains to be seen, but there is sure to be unrest in the days, weeks and months to come. What is certain is that Koreans have a very crucial decision to make.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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