The government of South Korea announced Wednesday that an election to choose the successor for impeached President Park Geun-hye will be held on May 9.
Park will be quite busy between now and May since her impeachment dissolved her presidential immunity from prosecution, and prosecutors are now very eager to talk with her. The Associated Press reports she will be summoned next Tuesday to answer questions about the corruption scandal that rocked South Korean government:
Dozens of high-profile figures including some top Park administration officials and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong have already been indicted over the scandal.
Park could also face extortion, bribery and other criminal charges, but she has denied any legal wrongdoing and expressed defiance toward her corruption allegations.
“Although it will take time, I believe the truth will certainly come out,” Park said after leaving the presidential Blue House on Sunday.
Park’s comments raised worries about a further deepening of the national divide over her fate. Three people died and dozens were injured in violent clashes between Park’s supporters and police following Friday’s court ruling.
Holding a presidential election on such short notice would give American political consultants a nervous breakdown, but South Korean law mandates such an election must be held within two months of impeachment and removal from office.
The favored candidate to replace Park is her defeated 2012 election opponent, Moon Jae-in. Moon is a 64-year-old human rights lawyer noted for taking a much softer stance against North Korea than Park.
“We must embrace the North Korean people as part of the Korean nation, and to do that, whether we like it or not, we must recognize Kim Jong-un as their ruler and as our dialogue partner,” Moon said in a statement quoted by International Business Times.
“Moon has gone on record saying he’s going to put friendlier relations with the North as a higher priority. He’s gone as far saying he will visit China first in order to discuss North Korea strategies. We haven’t tried a softer approach since Kim Jong-un came to power,” Catholic University professor Yang Jun-seok told CNBC.
Moon has described Park as “authoritarian and regressive,” and has criticized the powerful corporate interests implicated in Park’s corruption scandal. IBT notes he is currently polling at 36 percent, well ahead of his closed rival Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president. Hwang is only pulling 14 percent in the same poll.
Fortune anticipates Moon would clash with U.S. President Donald Trump over his declared plans for easing up on North Korean sanctions and re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial project, which Park closed a year ago. It is also feared that Moon would cancel the deployment of the American THAAD missile defense system, which he has long criticized for antagonizing China, although Fortune notes the system could be fully operational before Park’s successor could be sworn in.
On the other hand, North Korea might continue behaving in such an obnoxious manner that Moon would have a hard time realigning South Korea’s posture. Fortune raises the unnerving possibility that Pyongyang might decide to either shape up, so the next South Korean president can reset relations with them, or launch some sort of attack, to capitalize on two months of political unrest and the relative inexperience of acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn.
Park, once a very popular figure in South Korea, departs in a cloud of scandal and turmoil that might take her party a long time to recover from. On top of everything else, some South Koreans are enraged that she left her nine pet dogs behind when leaving the presidential residence – a pair of Jindo hunting dogs and their seven puppies.
Sky News reports that Park told staffers at the presidential residence to care for the dogs, but it did not prevent the Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from filing a complaint with the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which called in the National Police Agency.
What she did is not technically illegal, but it also will not help her in the court of public opinion. One South Korean citizen quoted in the Sky News article denounced Park as “a person who entirely lacks empathy, whether it’s for humans or for animals.”