In a historic, unanimous ruling Friday, South Korea’s constitutional Court formally removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil, worsened an already-serious national divide and prompted calls for sweeping reforms. It was a stunning fall for Park, the country’s first female leader and the daughter of a dictator who rode a lingering conservative nostalgia for her father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency descend into scandal. The ruling by the eight-member panel opens her up to possible criminal proceedings, and makes her South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy came in the country in the late 1980s.
Park’s “acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust,” acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said. “The benefits of protecting the constitution that can be earned by dismissing the defendant are overwhelmingly big. Hereupon, in a unanimous decision by the court panel, we issue a verdict: We dismiss the defendant, President Park Geun-hye.”
South Korea must hold an election within two months to choose Park’s successor. Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in the 2012 election, currently enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion surveys. Whoever becomes the next leader will take over a country facing a hostile North Korea, a stagnant economy and deep social and political divides.
Pre-verdict surveys showed that 70 to 80 per cent of South Koreans had wanted the court to approve Park’s impeachment. But there have been worries that Park’s ouster would further polarize the country and cause violence between her supporters and opponents.