On December 9, the South Korean National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye following a scandal that drove millions to protest throughout the country. While Park offered to step down or shorten her term to avoid an impeachment vote, her opposition in the legislature moved to impeach by a vote of 236 to 56. Park has been under fire with allegations she let a family friend, Choi Soon-sil, have undue influence over her administration with accusations that Choi extorted donations from businesses to curry favor with Blue House and had access to classified government documents.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will assume the presidency until the country’s Constitutional Court rules whether Park must permanently step down, a decision that may take up to six months. Should this happen, South Korea will hold another presidential election within 60 days but it remains uncertain whether the ruling Saenuri Party will be able to maintain its hold on power. In this Policy Alert, we review the reactions within South Korea, China, India, and Japan to Park’s downfall and South Korea’s future.
President Park said she was “gravely accepting parliamentary and public voices” and wished the “current turmoil comes to a stable end.” A Gallup opinion survey had her approval rating at just 4 percent with other polls showing 80 percent in favor of her impeachment. Even 62 members of her own political party voted against Park. This was just the second time a president has been impeached since the Republic of Korea (ROK) became a full-fledged democracy in the late 1980s.
Most editorials and op-eds in the South Korean press did not express much sympathy for President Park. In fact, some outright said “she does not deserve any sympathy.”
- Korea Times accused Park of having “been negligent of the people’s voices, only sticking to her own point-of-view.”
- Hankyoreh regretted Park was “getting ready to fight the people” and ignore the voices of millions of South Koreans who stood vigil against her presidency.
- Another Korea Times editorial claimed her “greatest crime that is not transcribed onto the official list of charges is the destruction of trust in the office of the presidency, and the subsequent sense of hopelessness among the people that may take a great deal of time to heal.” Nevertheless, the paper reminded that “all those involved, including the President, remain innocent until they are proven guilty.”