Roh camp prepares for more challenges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:00am

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is likely to be thrust almost immediately into the centre of another political controversy if the country's Constitutional Court decides to overturn his impeachment as expected later this week.

The president's supporters and opposition lawmakers are bracing themselves for a showdown over Mr Roh's choice for the post of prime minister.

The present incumbent, Goh Kun, took over presidential duties after Mr Roh's powers were suspended in mid-March, but he has indicated he wants to step down after the impeachment issue is resolved.

The nine judges of the Constitutional Court must decide by a two-thirds majority whether to return the president to office or uphold the impeachment, which was spearheaded by an opposition-dominated National Assembly.

It charged him with illegal electioneering, corruption involving close aides and economic mismanagement. Mr Roh's impeachment sparked a wave of mass protests by South Koreans who were angered by what they viewed as a politically motivated decision to remove a popularly elected head of state.

In recent weeks, the president has been demonstrating his quiet confidence that he will soon be back at work, holding a series of low-key meetings with supporters and officials.

He has told them he wants to appoint Kim Hyuk-kyu, a former opposition lawmaker, to the prime minister's job, as part of an anticipated cabinet reshuffle.

But Mr Kim's nomination is being bitterly resisted by the opposition Grand National Party that denounced the lawmaker as a traitor after he defected from the GNP to the pro-government Uri party shortly before last month's national elections.

Analysts are closely watching the dispute as a pointer to how troubled the country's politics are likely to be for the president's four remaining years in office.

And Mr Roh's confidence that he will be restored to office may yet prove premature.

Last week, Choo Sun-hoe, one of the judges of the Constitutional Court was quoted as saying: 'We are really in a difficult situation', sparking speculation the justices were divided on the issue.

If Mr Roh does resume office, he will return to a transformed political landscape after last month's general election left the pro-government Uri party with a majority in the National Assembly.