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[Editorial] Leaving crisis behind

Nation should keep calm to ensure stable power transition

It was a fair and legitimate judgement. The Constitutional Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the parliamentary impeachment of Park Geun-hye, now a former president, demonstrated that -- as the court said -- this nation is and should be governed by representative democracy and the rule of law.

The Constitutional Court’s 8-0 decision came as no surprise. It rightfully concluded that Park committed wrongdoings too serious to be allowed to continue serving as president.

Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said the court found some of the charges filed by the National Assembly were not impeachable: allegations that Park abused her power to influence personnel matters of the Culture Ministry and a newspaper company, and that she was derelict in her duty during the sinking of the Sewol ferry.

But the court’s verdict was clearer than expected over the core charges: allowing her confidante Choi Soon-sil to interfere with presidential and state affairs and helping her achieve personal gains. As the court opined, what Park has done “gravely” violated the Constitution and other laws.

The court specifically charged Park with ordering and allowing the leakage of classified documents to Choi. It also pointed out that Park abused her power to help Choi achieve personal gains through two foundations and private firms she controlled.

The Constitutional Court’s swiftness in making the ruling -- which came 92 days after the parliamentary vote -- should be commended as well. A fast impeachment trial was essential to end the tumult that has been plaguing the nation for about five months.

Now what should be done is clear. Most of all, Park should accept the decision, search her soul and make apologies for the damage she has done to the presidency and nation.

Now that Park has been stripped of most of her presidential privileges, including immunity from criminal charges, it may no longer be necessary for her to state this, but she should still say she will undergo investigation by the state prosecution, which, along with the probe by the independent counsel, she has evaded so far.

Park should be reminded that the Constitutional Court accused her of lying about her promise to undergo an investigation and of refusing to allow a search of the presidential office.

Perhaps the most important thing for her to do is to appeal to her supporters, especially the hard-core members of groups that have been waving the Taegeukgi national flag in protest against her impeachment. The death of two pro-Park demonstrators in Seoul after the impeachment verdict should be the last.

Park’s ouster from the presidential office makes the “leadership vacuum” an official one. It should last for two more months, during which we also should elect a new president.

By and large, it is almost certain that the battle lines for the upcoming presidential election will be formed between the liberal groups that had supported Park’s impeachment and the conservative groups that opposed it. That raises the possibility that the upcoming presidential campaigns could be more divisive, fiercer and dirtier than before.

We already face too many formidable challenges: North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, the North’s regime instability, as seen by the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, and Chinese retaliation over the deployment of a US anti-missile defense system here, to name but a few.

This nation simply cannot afford to add political and social troubles to these already daunting challenges. In a special address, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn issued an appeal to politicians to help stop street demonstrations and take politics back to the National Assembly.

Presidential hopefuls should heed the appeal and take the lead in leaving the crisis behind, select a new leader in an orderly way and move the nation forward.