South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment of Park Geun-hye today, paving the way for new elections to be held within 60 days of the ruling. May 9 has been reported as the most likely date for the election of a new president, who will replace President Park and serve a five-year term.
Park announced that she would immediately move out of the Blue House to her private residence in Gangnam. And with her removal from office, Park will almost certainly face a criminal trial now that she no longer enjoys immunity from prosecution.
The decision paves the way for an early resolution of a leadership vacuum that has engulfed South Korea for months. Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn has made decisions in a caretaker role, but with no political mandate to take new initiatives. A compressed presidential campaign and early election would be the quickest way to return to political normalcy within South Korea, but only following intensified polarization of differences between conservative and progressive factions resulting from the impeachment ruling.
Polarized factions on both sides
Most notably, the Park’s impeachment has taken its toll on South Korean conservatives, who are weakened and divided following a party split over whether to impeach Park. Conservative legislators who supported the National Assembly motion for Park’s impeachment left the ruling Saenuri Party to start the Barun (Righteous Party), while pro-Park stalwarts changed the Saenuri Party name to the Korea Freedom Party and appointed an interim party leadership. There were hopes that former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would mobilize a unity candidacy, but they quickly evaporated in early February.
As public support for conservatives has waned, Democratic Party support rates among the Korean public have surged to the high 40% range, with former Roh Moo-hyun chief of staff and 2012 Democratic Party presidential candidate Moon Jae-in emerging as the current frontrunner with a 30-35% support rate. A four-person Democratic Party primary also features South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung and Seongnam City Mayor Lee Jae-myung, both of whom have broken into double digits in recent Korean presidential polls. Current levels of support for these three presidential candidates suggest that the winner of the Democratic Party primary will be heavily favored to win the presidency.
But as the public focus shifts from Park’s impeachment to the presidential campaign, Moon Jae-in’s candidacy will face greater scrutiny, especially from older Korean conservatives who are distrustful of his progressive politics. Thus, the major question likely to shape the campaign is whether any presidential hopeful can unify and mobilize the Korean public in an effort to stop Moon’s candidacy.
Read more from the source article published by the Council on Foreign Relations Mar. 10 2017