On March 9, 2017, Park Geun-hye became the first president to have an impeachment upheld by an unanimous constitutional court amid a corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea for the last couple of months. It all started in December when, after an investigation, members of the South Korean parliament voted to impeach Geun-hye. The investigation revealed that Geun-hye had committed 13 constitutional violations, including dereliction of duty, abuse of power, and infringement on the freedom of the press. South Korean law states that a new president must be elected within 60 days.
The leader had mainly attempted to benefit from her influence towards large Korean business conglomerates. For instance, she had shared State secrets to a confidant with whom she colluded to extort profits from two cultural organizations controlled by the latter. There were also links of bribery from the presidential office with Lee Jae-yong, the heir of the Samsung Empire.
When rendering the impeachment confirmation decision, Justice Lee Jung-mi, acting Chief Justice of the constitutional court, said that Geun-hye’s actions “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.” While it upheld Geun-hye’s impeachment, the Court found that it did not have enough evidence regarding the abuse of power charges. However, now that Geun-hye no longer has presidential immunity, she may be prosecuted for the multiple crimes she has been charged with, including all corruption charges.
The political turmoil in South Korea comes at a time when North Korean and Chinese tensions are rising in the region. South Korea is an important ally to the United States, which is deemed crucial for advancing U.S. interests in the region. All main players in the region will closely follow this election given the important geopolitical implications.
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