Park Geun-hye

South Korean politicians must rebuild trust with the people

The saga of Park Geun-hye’s impeachment has done untold damage to the political system

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 1:07am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 1:07am

South Korea for too long was held hostage by its power-hungry president, Park Geun-hye. Her refusal to resign and give up her political immunity to fight corruption allegations tarnished her government, the nation’s image and brought to a standstill efforts to deal with regional challenges. The unanimous ruling yesterday by constitutional court judges to back parliament’s decision to impeach her begins lifting the cloud of uncertainty. But as the country moves forward, lawmakers have to be mindful of how so debilitating a situation came about and ensure there can be no reoccurrence.

The ruling means Park can now face charges and Koreans will vote for a new president by early May. But political divisions run deep; two people were killed in fighting outside the court as opposing crowds awaited the verdict. The reason judges made what should have been a decision by lawmakers was because no agreement could be reached on whether the president should stand down, even though opinion polls indicated 70 per cent of citizens wanted her out. There is no certainty that even after elections calm will return.

Will Park Geun-hye’s exit reshape South Korea’s relationship with China and North Korea?

Park ignored months of protests by millions of Koreans calling for her resignation. She defied efforts by investigators to question her over a scandal involving her close friend, Choi Soon-sill, who has been charged with bribery and corruption for allegedly pressuring big companies to give money in return for favours. Park is accused of colluding with her and giving access to sensitive documents. Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of the country’s biggest conglomerate, Samsung, is also involved and is on trial accused of bribery and embezzlement. All have denied wrongdoing.

The front runner for president is Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party, who represents a hopeful break from eight years of conservative rule that has brought tensions in northeast Asia to a dangerous level. He has vowed that if elected, he will visit arch-rival North Korea before ally the US, is against a controversial American anti-missile shield system that can spy on China and seeks sweeping reform of chaebols, the conglomerates that dominate the economy and are widely seen as getting preferential treatment from politicians. Election of someone with such views would be good for South Korea, Beijing and the region.

But that will not repair deep-seated public mistrust of politicians. Park is the country’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office and her dismissal and the manner in which it occurred have further damaged the political system.

Lawmakers are elected to serve the people and nation and they have to put that duty above all else.