- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
On Friday, South Korea’s constitutional court unanimously ruled to remove the country’s president, Park Geun-hye, from office.
Park had already been impeached by the National Assembly in December on allegations of corruption, including that she shared confidential business documents with a friend, Choi Soon-sil. Park allegedly worked with her to extort millions from businesses; a more sensational version has the now-former president essentially under the control of that friend, who is the daughter of a cult leader. The scandal also embroiled the head of Samsung.
The constitutional court had six months after that National Assembly vote to decide whether Park should stay or go. It made its decision in three.
And so now South Korea is in a bit of a pickle. The populace is divided by Park’s corruption and ouster. South Korea is under increasingly scary threat from North Korea and pressure from China, a reprisal for Seoul’s efforts to bolster regional defense against showers of missiles (which, in a twist, may have brought the country closer to Japan).
South Korea now has two months to hold snap elections. Moon Jae-in, liberal and leader of the Democratic Party, is currently ahead in the polls. Moon last ran for president in 2012 and lost to Park.
It is widely believed that nostalgia for her late father, the authoritarian leader Park Chung-hee, brought her to the presidency. Her political career has notched a pair of firsts: She was the country’s first female leader, and is now also the first democratically-elected leader of South Korea to be removed from office. Worse for her, losing the office potentially opens her up to criminal prosecution.
Although polls showed South Koreans overwhelmingly supported Park’s removal, the country was divided after the verdict, which was greeted with protests in the country’s capital, Seoul, that already killed two and injured thirty. The country’s acting president called for unity and acceptance. It is still to be seen whether South Koreans will heed those calls.
Photo credit: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images