March 16, 2017 10:00 am JST

Editorial: South Korean voters face sobering global realities

After Park's impeachment chaos, cool heads must prevail in choosing next president

South Korea's political turmoil has finally resulted in Park Geun-hye becoming the first South Korean president in the country's history to be forced from office. The Constitutional Court upheld an impeachment vote last December against Park by the National Assembly over the alleged interference of her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in state affairs.

The court agreed that Park had abused her position and power for the benefit of her friend, and also judged that a leak of official documents classified as state secrets was a violation of her duty to maintain secrecy. The tribunal also took Park to task for refusing to be questioned by prosecutors and other authorities, describing this as a "betrayal of the public trust."

All eight judges of the court agreed to uphold the impeachment motion by the legislature. The unanimous decision seems to have come in part from the pressure of public opinion in South Korea, which overwhelmingly called for Park to step down.

HERSELF TO BLAME That said, Park herself was to blame for aggravating the political turbulence.

She neglected to clear up the truth about her own scandal, rejecting questioning by prosecutors. Such an irresponsible attitude fueled public anger. The court verdict has ejected her from office, stripping her of her immunity from arrest. A thorough investigation into the scandal will also be necessary to put an end to long-standing evils in the country's political world. These include abuse of authority and collusion between politicians and business leaders.

Park expressed her apology in a statement via a close aide, saying, "Although it will take time, I believe the truth will certainly come out."

Her remarks may be taken as complaining about the court decision to dismiss her from office. If so, she is even more obliged to bring the truth to light on her own.

The focus of attention in South Korea's political scene, which follows the confusion over Park's downfall, is the election to choose the next president, which is due to be held within 60 days of her removal due to impeachment.

Moon Jae-in, former head of the leading opposition Democratic Party of Korea, a social-liberal party, is the dominant top-runner in the presidential race, according to the most recent opinion polls. As of now, the view is prevailing that presidential hopefuls from the opposition camp, including Moon, are likely to gather more momentum, on the back of a tailwind from the ouster of Park, a distinctly conservative president.

POLICY REVERSALS Meanwhile, it is a cause for concern that the opposition camp is moving to categorically deny all policy measures pursued under the Park administration. Some opposition lawmakers are even beginning to call for a shift toward a more conciliatory approach to North Korea and a rethink of the country's alliance with the U.S., as well as the three-way cooperation involving the U.S. and Japan, in the area of national security.

But it is a reality that Pyongyang is escalating its acts of provocation, as seen in a string of ballistic missile tests and the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

It should be noted that the planned deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defense system -- the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system -- in South Korea and the recently signed General Security of Military Information Agreement, a bilateral pact that allows the sharing of military intelligence between South Korea and Japan, are both vital for the U.S., South Korea and Japan to work together to cope with the threat from the North.

There is a smoldering argument in the opposition bloc that the country should renegotiate the agreement with Tokyo to settle the wartime issue of Korean "comfort women." Any bid to renegotiate the pact, which the two countries have already declared has resolved the issue "finally and irreversibly," would be extremely harmful. If the agreement were really scrapped, it would undermine mutual trust between South Korea and Japan, and Seoul would lose the confidence of the international community.

We hope the policy debate during the presidential election campaign will be conducted by looking squarely at world reality, with cool heads and without losing sight of the country's true national interests.

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