By Koustubh Tol
What happens when a President you voted to power gets impeached 4 years into her term? Ever since the South Korean – Park Geun-hye – was thrown out of power by the Constitutional Court in March 2017, citizens have been thrown into uncertainty on their political leadership.
The political turmoil in the East Asian nation started in October 2016 when President Park was accused of bribery and corruption charges along with her confidante Choi Soon-Sil. Ms Choi was also accused of interfering in government policies and using her close relations with Ms Park to obtain millions of dollars from multi-national companies as donations. A vast majority of the South Korean population took to the streets to protest against Park’s presidency forcing the parliament to impeach her in December. Later in March, the highest court in the country upheld the parliament’s decision and Ms Park was arrested.
Since then, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has been the acting president of the country until the new president gets elected. With just days remaining, the citizens have a lot to think about before they cast their vote on 9th May.
National issues surrounding South Korea
After the corruption scandal broke out, millions of South Koreans, including many ex-supporters of the president, were seen on the streets demanding the ouster of Ms Park. Though the situation has improved after the impeachment, a lot needs to be done by the upcoming government to restore people’s confidence in various government institutions.
The involvement of major business tycoons like Lee Jae-yong of Samsung in the corruption scandal is one of the biggest issues faced by the countrymen. Considering the dominance of family-owned conglomerates (also known as Chaebol) in the economy, corruption and nepotism have soared in the country. The youth unemployment rate in South Korea was a record high at 9.8% in 2016 showcasing the low economic opportunities available for the younger generation.
International issues surrounding South Korea
On the international front, South Korea has even bigger problems to face. At the top of the list lie the recent nuclear provocations from its northern neighbour. Kim Jong-Un, the controversial North Korean leader, has conducted several nuclear tests in the surrounding waters which in turn led to a military standoff with the United States. Being an ally of US, South Korea has become a battlefield for the US military establishment with the recent inclusion of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.
With rising military deployments in the country, the new South Korean government, on one hand, will have to establish good relations with the US to ensure the safety of its land while on the other hand, maintain friendly relations with China which has criticised the US aggression.
The ruling party, Saenuri, has now been split due to the corruption scandal. The party split into two in December 2016 when 29 anti-Park lawmakers defected and formed their own political front called Bareun Party. The remaining lawmakers renamed the Saenuri Party as the Liberty Korean Party and it has a low chance of winning the upcoming presidential elections.
As per the status quo, the battle for the top post is between two candidates namely Moon Jae-in of the left-leaning Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s party. Though most of the opinion polls have predicted a comfortable win for Mr Moon, the possibility of a reversal cannot be neglected.
Mr Moon, a left-leaning democratic candidate, lost to Ms Park in 2012. The front-runner has been a critic of the power relished by mega corporations, which was one of the reasons for Park’s ouster from the president’s post. In the recent past, he expressed his hope of developing good relations with Pyongyang. Though he has expressed his satisfaction with US-South Korea relations, he voiced his concern regarding the deployment of THAAD anti-missile systems in the country. According to Moon, the next president of the country must be the one who decides whether THAAD deployment is needed for South Korea since it may hamper the country’s relations with China.
On the other hand, Ahn Cheol-soo of People’s party has vowed to establish stronger national security, a move that has gained him considerable support from the Park voters of 2012. Though Ahn has supported the American anti-missile deployment, he too wants to establish friendly grounds with North Korea. Another similarity between the two leaders lies in their views about the economy. Being a former software mogul, Ahn has expressed his criticism on the income inequality and dominance of chaebols in South Korea.
With South Korea facing major economic and security issues, the next president will have to flex his muscles to establish confidence in the ordinary citizen about the political institutions and start rebuilding the country at the earliest.
Featured Image Source: Voa News