South Korean politicians must rebuild trust with the people

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After months of political paralysis and social unrest, the Constitutional Court voted unanimously Friday to uphold the earlier parliamentary decision to impeach President Park Geun-hye, ending the career of the country's first female president.

Crowds of between 500,000 to 1.5 million people had protested in the streets over the course of six weeks leading up to the National Assembly's December impeachment of Park, whose approval rating had plunged to just 4% after she was mired in a corruption scandal. In what is being called "the trial of the century", the heir to the Samsung empire went on trial Thursday alleged to have made payments of up to $38 million to Park and her adviser Choi Soon-sil.

The ruling opens Park, who no longer has immunity as a president, up to possible criminal proceedings - prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect.

Booting her from office, judge Lee Jung-mi said the president had violated the constitution "throughout her term". And they are overwhelmingly hostile to now ex-President Park Geun-hye.

A presidential election must be held in 60 days if the impeachment is upheld. Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost to Ms Park in the 2012 election, now enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion polls.

The Constitutional Court's verdict to oust President Park Geun-hye cleared political uncertainty for the Korean economy, but external risks such as trade issues with the United States still remain great challenges, experts said. The scandal also embroiled the head of Samsung. The court dismissed the accusation that Park abused her power in appointing government officials, citing a lack of evidence.

Ms Park had "concealed completely Choi's meddling in state affairs and denied it whenever suspicions over the act emerged and even criticised those who raised the suspicions", it said.

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Park did not appear in court for the ruling, and she has yet to publicly comment on the ruling.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is home to several top candidates, including Mr Moon Jae In, 63, who lost to Ms Park by 3 percentage points in 2012.

Touching on the rival rallies among pro- and anti-Park protesters, Hwang said now is the time to end conflict and confrontation, asking all of people to respect the court's decision.

Park is South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.

While the ruling might have irrevocably derailed Park's political career, analysts saw defiance in her silence, saying that Park was perhaps hoping to use the growing anger of her followers to rebuild support.

Vast majority of South Koreans back president's impeachment.


As the various twists and turns of the scandal came to light public fury across South Korea intensified, with many staging demonstrations calling for her to step down.