As expected, South Korea’s Park Geun Hye’s impeachment was upheld by the Constitutional Court in a unanimous 8-0 vote Friday morning. The Court found Ms. Park to have committed “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” and marks the first time that a South Korean leader has been removed from office by impeachment. A new election will be held within 60 days, with May 9 as the expected date.
The decision comes at a turbulent time for North East Asia. The next leader will inherit a Korean economy growing at its slowest pace in a decade and an increasingly belligerent – and capable – hostile neighbor to the North. We will continue to monitor any economic developments closely over the election cycle, and work with our partners in industry and government to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.
It is worth noting that the security situation on the Korean peninsula has already begun to feature prominently in the domestic political discourse. There are sharp disagreements on how to approach the relationship with Pyongyang, highlighted by the public reactions this week to the deployment of an advanced American missile defense system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense). Complicating matters are China’s actions to apply ‘soft sanctions’ – from K-pop concert cancelations to the closure of 23 China-based Korean department stores – which will certainly play into the political calculus of Korea’s leading politicians.
Who to watch: With the withdrawal of former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon earlier this year, Moon Jae-In of the opposition Minjoo Party has solidified his lead in the polls. South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung has emerged, to the surprise of political experts, as a dark-horse candidate within Mr. Moon’s Minjoo Party. His popularity has exploded, increasing from 3% support to 19% support since early January. This development in the primary landscape has some predicting that Ahn’s streak could see him emerge as the leading opposition party candidate, making him one to watch closely over the next two months.