Outgoing Chief of Constitutional Court Urges Prompt Impeachment Trial
SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- The outgoing chief of the Constitutional Court insisted Tuesday that the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye should end as soon as possible in line with the wishes of the people.
Park Han-chul made the remark during his retirement ceremony, ending a six-year term as a member of the nine-member bench, just days after he first raised the need to deliver a ruling by March 13, the retirement date of fellow Justice Lee Jung-mi. He voiced concern at the time that an additional vacancy on the bench could lead to a "distorted" ruling.'
"In light of the gravity of the situation in which the president has been suspended from duties for nearly two months, the entire nation likely is united in the view that a conclusion must come as soon as possible," he said during the ceremony held at the court.
Park was impeached by parliament last month over allegations she let her friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and extorted money from conglomerates on Choi's behalf. The president has claimed innocence and denied knowledge of her friend's suspected crimes.
The court has until early June to decide whether to uphold or reject the impeachment, with approval from at least six justices required to unseat the president. If Park is formally removed from office, South Korea will hold a presidential election within 60 days.
Park Han-chul urged fellow justices and the court's staff to fulfill their duty to defend the Constitution by "strictly" reviewing the case.
He also urged the National Assembly to take action to resolve conflicting interests between different economic and social classes, saying a failure to do so will lead to public dissatisfaction and distrust of the political system.
Commenting on the growing political debate over a constitutional revision, he said it should only aim to enhance the dignity and happiness of the people as well as the stability of the nation, not serve a political purpose.
The vacancies left by Park Han-chul and Lee are not expected to be filled soon as a justice can only be appointed by the president following parliamentary confirmation.
However, some have raised the need to put acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn in a position to appoint successors under the exceptional circumstances.
"We should recognize (Hwang's) authority to name and appoint a successor to Constitutional Court President Park Han-chul and appoint a successor to Justice Lee Jung-mi," Rep. Na Kyung-won of the ruling Saenuri Party said Sunday. "The ruling and opposition parties should reach an agreement on the appointment process of new justices."
By law, the president appoints all nine justices, but names only three. The National Assembly chooses three justices and the chief of the Supreme Court names the remaining three.
With broad agreement on limiting the acting president's powers to a minimum, some say the parliament or the Supreme Court chief could tap a new justice and leave Hwang to simply carry out the formality of appointing him or her.
But opponents of that proposal argue that Park Han-chul was named by former President Lee Myung-bak, and shifting that authority to either the parliament or the Supreme Court would break the balance among the three branches of government.
Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, shot down any talk of appointing successors as a "rash argument."
"Even if a successor is named, the parliament will not approve it," he said during a party meeting earlier in the day. "If a new court president is appointed, he or she will have to start deliberations from scratch. That's a far cry from the public's wish to see a swift conclusion to the impeachment hearings."