What you need to know
The impact of Park’s impeachment will likely last beyond this election cycle.
On Friday South Korea’s Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye. Now, rather than a December election if Park had completed her term in office (South Korean presidents are limited to one five-year term), South Korea now has 60 days to hold a presidential election.
Park’s impeachment marks the second president to face an impeachment vote since democratization. The National Assembly voted to remove Roh Moo-Hyun in 2004 based on charges of illegal electioneering among other charges. The Constitutional Court ultimately rejected Roh’s removal, citing the vote as unjustified and politically motivated. Roh’s case also differs markedly from Park’s as the public remained largely sympathetic to Roh, aiding his party in the National Assembly election following the impeachment vote.
The downfall of Park has been well documented elsewhere (see here, here, here and here), and the effects will likely hand the presidency to the center-left Minjoo (Democratic) Party. Election surveys show Moon Jae-In, Park’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election, as the frontrunner, although he has let to declare his candidacy. Those within Park’s own Saenuri Party began distancing themselves leading up to the impeachment vote in December, and since then, the party changed its name to the Liberty Korea Party while others split to form the Bareun Party (Righteous Party).
Party name changes, as well as splits and mergers, are commonplace in Korean politics, where parties, attempting to distance themselves either from previous electoral losses or scandals, attempt to rebrand. Such cosmetic changes are unlikely to persuade voters, especially as Park, now stripped of immunity, will face a series of legal charges keeping media attention on her fall from grace.
The impact of Park’s impeachment will likely last beyond this election cycle. As I have mentioned before, the Queen of Elections benefited from her name recognition as the daughter of the country’s authoritarian leader Park Chung Hee, advantages to which other politically minded women in South Korea have little comparison. Last year’s National Assembly election resulted in more females elected than any previous legislative election, but women still only comprise seventeen percent of seats. The gendered criticism embedded in the charges that led to the removal of Park may result in parties second-guessing pressures to nominate more women.
Park’s removal should also impact relations with North Korea. North Korea’s recent missile launches, timed before joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, in part could be seen as taking advantage of the political crisis in their neighbor. Pyongyang’s coverage of conservative South Korean presidents generally painted them as tools of the Americans, with Pyongyang particularly focusing on Park’s gender in coverage, from references to her as a whore for the Obama administration to the “swish” of her skirt.
Assuming Park is succeeded by a liberal-progressive president, this could potentially mark a return to the Kim Dae Jung era “Sunshine Policy” efforts towards engagement with Pyongyang rather than expecting Pyongyang to end its nuclear program before talks.
Editor: Edward White