The eight-member bench of the South Korean Constitutional Court on Friday unanimously voted Friday in favor of a Dec. 9 legislative motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye, making her the country’s first president to be impeached and dismissed from office before termination of a five-year tenure largely for disregard for constitutional duties and laws.
“Given her role in hiding corruptions of the people around her and lack of cooperation during the impeachment trial, we’ve concluded that the defendant (President Park) has not the will to respect and uphold the Constitution,” Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a 21-minute verdict reading that was closely watched by 50 million people of the country that had been plagued by the scandal since September.
“The Constitution is a value everyone including the president must uphold and respect,” she said.
The bench concluded that Park violated the Constitutional values and domestic laws by joining the selfish pursuits of her friend Choi Soon-sil. Instead of trying to stop her power abuse, the president used her power to hide the wrongdoings, Lee said.
On charges of negligence of duty during the Sewol Ferry sinking in 2014 that killed more than 300 passengers, the president did not necessarily had to command the rescue operation, but she still had not “faithfully” engaged in her constitutional duty to safeguard the people’s lives and assets, she said.
Emphasizing on the bench’s fairness and commitment in reaching the “historic judgment”, the justices met 60 days nonstop, reviewed over 40 boxes and 480,000 testimonies to reach a conclusion as soon as possible to end the vacuum in leadership and political and social unrest, she said.
“Our judgment was on whether the defendant should be dismissed from her public title, not on her criminal persecution,” she said.
Lee also said the Constitutional Court focused to minimize the social chaos and conflict over the incident and draw unity.
Thousands of people have been rallying every Saturdays demanding Park’s resignation since the public came to learn a mysterious woman had been pulling strings behind the president. In recent months, the rally was joined by crowds of conservatives opposing to the impeachment.
The financial markets welcomed the news on expectations that the country may be finally on track for political and social normalization.
The main Korean Composite Stock Price Index (Kospi) closed Friday at 2,097.35 points, up 0.3 percent or 6.29 points and secondary Kosdaq rose 1.01 percent to 612.26 points from the previous session. The dollar fell 0.2 percent to 1,157.70 won.
Park is the second president to be impeached by the National Assembly. President Roh Moo-hyun was immediately reinstated after the 2004 impeachment trial struck down the legislative action.
A full bench composed of nine justices was required to review the impeachment case with attendance of seven or more justices. The bench was left with eight after Chief Justice Park Han-chul’s term ended in January. Although the court had until June to deliberate, it advanced the verdict before acting chief justice Lee’s term ends on Monday lest lacking bench consensus should raise questions about the validity of the ruling.
Park, who did not attend the hearing, is immediately stripped of her presidential title and rights. Without presidential immunity, she inevitably must comply with prosecution probe.
Under the law, Korea also must hold a presidential election within the next 60 days. The National Election Commission embarked on a procedure to prepare for an election on May 9. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-han will soon fix the date.
The Democratic Party, the main opposition holding the largest seat in the National Assembly and whose candidates lead the popular polls, is the only party to have begun primary procedure.
By Jeon Ji-sung
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business News Korea & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]