A constitutional court upheld the impeachment of South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye on Friday (local time) effectively ending the embattled leader’s scandal-ridden term in office. Park, the country’s first female president, is also its first to be removed from office after the South Korean legislature voted overwhelmingly in December to impeach her for corruption, stripping her of her presidential powers.
The court’s decision confirmed the legislature’s vote and brought a dramatic end to monthslong political upheaval that saw millions take to the streets in protest of Park, who became mired in a truly bizarre corruption scandal. A longtime confidante of President Park, Choi Soon-sil, extorted some $70 million from various businesses in what Slate’s Josh Keating described as “just the tip of the iceberg of a political scandal that includes allegations over occult rituals, Rasputin-esque mind control, extramarital sex, and dressage.”
Park is part of a powerful political family in South Korea; her father led the country for nearly two decades in the 1960s and 1970s, ushering in an era of economic dynamism. The intersection of political power and growing economic might, however, led to entrenched, family-controlled business dynasties, which gave rise to increasingly murky political-business alliances in the country. The Park scandal touched a nerve, galvanizing popular opinion against entrenched political and business elites in a political sea change in the country of which the fallout is still far from decided.
Here’s more from the New York Times:
With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses like Samsung… The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Ms. Choi. Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars—until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.
With Park’s ouster, the country now has 60 days to choose a new president. “[Park’s] downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region,” according to the Times. “They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.”