The Cable

South Korea Picked a Tranquil Time to Impeach Its President

Park Geun-hye may have finally been done in by corruption and a cult.

park

South Korea’s National Assembly voted to impeach president Park Geun-hye on Thursday, with 234 of 300 lawmakers voting to oust the embattled leader who is stung by corruption allegations.

South Korea’s prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, now acting leader, apologized to the Korean people and said he feels a “deep responsibility” for all that has transpired.

According to prosecutors, Park allegedly shared confidential documents with a friend, on whose behalf she got money from business groups. A more lurid version is that Park was basically under the control of that friend, Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a cult leader. In 2007, a diplomatic cable by the then-U.S. ambassador to South Korea, released by WikiLeaks, flagged the relationship between Park and Choi Tae-min, the cult leader.

“Park has also been forced to explain her own past, including her relationship some 35 years ago with a pastor, Choi Tae-min, whom her opponents characterize as a ‘Korean Rasputin,’ and how he controlled Park during her time in the Blue House when she was first lady after her mother’s assassination,” the cable read.

Park, daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, had offered to resign as the scandal grew. Her opponents said that resignation was an all too easy way out. They wanted her impeached.

And now she has been. Her future is now in the hands of the constitutional court, which will have six months to decide what to do with her. If it decides on impeachment, she will be removed from office, and South Korea will hold snap elections. If it decides against it, she will be reinstated to the presidency, where she will likely be able to remain until the end of her term in February of 2018.

South Korea’s domestic politics will be in a for turbulent few months, then — just as the arrival of a new American president promises to ratchet up uncertainty over Asia’s future and Seoul’s place in the now-wheezing U.S. pivot to Asia.

Photo credit: South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

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