21.12.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Prospects of the Republic of Korea’s Domestic Policy after Park Geun-hye Impeachment

4243234234The Removal of the President from power, temporary or not, has affected the domestic policy, especially the state of affairs within the ruling Saenuri Party which is on the verge of a breakup.

Keep in mind that if all the deputies of Saenuri opposed the impeachment, its supporters would not get the required 200 votes. At the same time, Saenuri is not a solid group but the union of various factions (like most parties in South Korea), and Park’s supporters do not constitute the majority.

One of the affluential leaders of more conservative spirit was Kim Moo-sung, who had been the leader of the Party but resigned after its defeat at the Parliamentary elections. Having taken an unbiased look at the situation amid the scandal with Choi Soon-sil, apparently Kim decided that his group should, firstly, break its ties with Park and demand the impeachment louder than the opposition in order to get rid of the stigma of “the ousted President’s supporter,” and secondly, not join the elections, where the risk of an inglorious defeat would be too high.

Therefore, on November 23, Kim Moo-sung announced that a) he would not participate in the next Presidential elections in order to focus on the revival of the prudent conservatism, b) he had decided to initiate the President’s impeachment inside the Party as he wished to do his duty for the people: “Having violated the Constitution, the head of the state must resign”.

Other politicians started to quit the Saenuri Party with similar slogans, for example, the governor of Gyeonggi-do province Nam Kyung-pil and the National Assembly deputy Kim Yong-thae who explained their decision by the refusal of Park Geun-hye to resign. As a result, the faction struggle interests ensured the voting for the impeachment, and the head of the parliamentary faction of the ruling party Chung Jin-sok took responsibility for the intra-party breakup and left his post.

Although owing to this fact, the Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn rules the country now, who is not considered to be the supporter of Park, he is surrounded by people who believe that the honorable discharge of the President will satisfy the right-wingers – while the left-wingers will be unable to say that she has been overturned and they will have fewer chances to press the political success. As a result, Hwang supporters accused Kim and Ko of the party’s breakup, while the latter announced on December 13 that he was planning to establish a new conservative party as the current Saenuri was unable to resist the left-wingers, and he called the Party’s leadership “the political slaves” of Park Geun-hye.

In this context, the entire Saenuri Party leadership dominated by both the President’s supporters headed by Lee Jeong-hyun and by opponents of Kim Moo-sung is expected to resign. It is not clear who will replace them, but on December 16, the President’s supporter Chung Woo-taik defeated his rival Na Kyung-won who is the opponent of Park Geyn-hye by 62 votes against 55 at the elections of the Parliamentary faction’s leader.

Thus, a large group of deputies may stand out in Saenuri soon, and the Party is likely to change its name. This means that there is no single candidate in the both camps of the right and left wingers. And the winner may fail to poll more than a half of votes, but he/she will win as other candidates gain even fewer votes.

At the same time, the left wing has the whole range of candidates, and it is not clear whether they can come to an agreement to withdraw from the candidate pool in favour of an other candidate by giving a potential electorate. Judging by various opinion polls, a prominent figure of the opposition Democratic Toburo Party and the former candidate at the past elections Moon Jae-in is ranked the first. An average of 24% are ready to vote for him. The Mayor of Seongnam Lee Jae-myung is ranked second with 16-17%. He is also the opposition member who has succeeded due to a strongly aggressive anti-President speeches during the struggle for the impeachment. In addition, the Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon, a populist and the former head of the People’s Party Ahn Cheol-soo, as well as an old guard democrat Song Hak-kyu still remain the contenders.

What about Ban Ki-moon? The former UN General Secretary still plays a waiting game justifying his nickname of “the slippery eel”. The defeat in the elections for him is the political non-existence, and now the polls give him from 15 to 19% depending on the political commitment of the agencies. On the one hand, Munhwa Ilbo newspaper has reported that from November 15 to November 20 (i.e., before the impeachment), a number of his closest aides visited Korea and met with representatives of the political circles, including the leader of the Parliamentary faction of Saenuri Chong Jin-sok, who confirmed the meeting without denying rumours about the possibility of Ban’s nomination as a candidate.

On the other hand, Chung Jin-sok resigned and took credit for the situation after the impeachment. Apparently, the expectation to delay the President’s resignation thus giving Ban Ki-moon time to prepare and win had failed, and, on December 7, the official representative of the Secretary General Stefan Duzharrik said that Ban Ki-moon “has no relation to the statements that various organizations and persons mispresent as his words, in particular, concerning the possible participation in the Presidential elections.” However, the Republic of Korea’s media immediately noted that Duzharrik did not refute the possible participation of Ban Ki-moon in the Presidential elections and the creation of a new party.

A new stage of the struggle between the right and the left-wingers is to be expected in this context, as the left-wingers immediately have tried to press the success by proposing to reconsider the agreement on THAAD: as the President is dismissed, let the next one adopt such an important decision for the country. Deputies of the Democratic Party and Moon Jae-in have made such a statement.

In addition, it is important for the left-wingers to neutralize the Prime Minister: they wanted to promote their representative to this position within the government’s concept of the national unity, but they failed. Therefore, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea Chung Sye-kyun announced that the National Assembly should manage the process of the new state system creation. For example, by creating a Council from representatives of the parties and the government. Saenuri is surely against it, as it is the direct violation of the principle of separation of powers into three branches and it will make the government of Hwang Kyo-ahn incompetent.

Nonetheless, the political circles of the Republic of Korea have started to demand the introduction of amendments to the Constitution. They concern not only the discussion of the two terms but some weakening of the power accumulation in the hands of the state’s head. According to the opposition political analysts, the South Korean community associates the current system of the presidential government with a monarchy.

However, we can see a split in the left camp regarding a question what comes the first – new rules or new elections. It is no wonder that Moon Jae-in as the owner of the first place in the ranking of the candidates stands for holding the Presidential elections first, and then for the introduction of amendments so that the restrictions will affect the power of his successor. Thus, the enemies of Moon in the left wing – the former chairman of the temporary committee of the opposition Democratic Toburo Party Kim Jong-In and the above mentioned Song Hak-kyu – support the introduction of amendments to the Constitution before the Presidential elections. Song has also declared that, if Moon Jae-in is elected a new President, the country will face “the second Park Geun-hye.” The Saenuri Party also supports the immediate introduction of amendments to the Constitution, as it sees an opportunity to solve the current critical situation, to score additional political points, and to drown its most dangerous rival.

Meanwhile, the South Korean railway employees have been striking for over two months now…

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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