The Constitutional Court set Friday for announcing its verdict on the parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. The court’s verdict will take effect immediately.
A ruling that confirms the impeachment would remove Park from office. She would forfeit most of her presidential privileges, including immunity from criminal charges, and would most certainly face further investigation and, possibly, indictment.
Any such verdict would be historic, in that Park would be the first president ever to be impeached with confirmation by the court. The late President Roh Moo-hyun was impeached by the National Assembly in 2004 on charges of interfering with an election and corruption among his associates, but the Constitutional Court overturned the parliament’s decision and reinstated him.
An impeachment verdict would require the election of a new president within 60 days, which would also pose a formidable challenge to the nation.
If the top court makes the opposite decision, Park, who had been suspended since Dec. 9 on the parliament’s impeachment, would regain her presidential powers and duties and would finish out her five–year term that ends next February. Park’s successor would be chosen on Dec. 20.
Whichever verdict the court issues, it would end the impeachment trial, which, along with the just-ended investigation into the massive presidential scandal by an independent counsel, has put the whole country on edge, and worst of all, divided the nation into pro- and anti-impeachment groups.
The problem is that the end of the impeachment trial is unlikely to end the division plaguing the nation for the past three months. Rather, many are worried about the aftermath of the court’s decision.
Most worrisome is that there are some hard-liners in both pro- and anti-impeachment groups who refuse to accept the top court’s decision if it goes against their position.
Recent opinion polls showed that about half of Koreans say they will not accept the Constitutional Court’s decision if it goes against their position. The portion of people who say they would not embrace the court’s verdict varies according to factors like their ideological beliefs and ages, but the overall findings indeed are alarming.
Politicians who have tried to take advantage of the impeachment trial and some fanatical hard-liners from both sides widened the divide and fanned hatred against the other side. Some went on to say there would come a “revolution.” Others said they were ready to shed “blood on the asphalt road.”
These demagogues intimidate the rule of law and democracy. They also threaten the proud tradition of nonviolence, which both sides have upheld so far in staging peaceful street demonstrations.
The candlelight vigils by pro-impeachment groups drew praise from around the world as they proceeded peacefully. In the initial stage of the scandal, the anti-Park public sentiment was so overwhelming that few pro-Park groups dared to hold public rallies.
Day by day, the pro-Park groups gained strength to the degree that in recent demonstrations they equaled or even outnumbered anti-Park protesters.
What was good was that the two groups, holding rallies only tens of meters away from each other, did not resort to violence. This wonderful tradition should be upheld on Friday, as the two groups have already announced plans for mass rallies around the Constitutional Court.
Any eruption of violence may escalate the confrontation between the two groups, which could plunge the nation into deeper turmoil.
We now stand at a critical juncture, and only obedience to the rule of law and preservation of our proud tradition of respecting nonviolence can save us from this crisis.
For this, everyone from President Park and politicians, including presidential hopefuls and those who held candles or national flags, should think twice before they speak or do something. At stake is not simply the fate of an already unpopular president, but the future of the nation.