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South Korea constitutional court begins Park's impeachment review

The Constitutional Court of Korea will begin hearings on a motion to impeach President Park Geun-Hye on Thursday, a process that could take up to six months despite demands by citizens for a speedier decision.

At least six of the nine judges on the court, an independent body that specializes in matters of the South Korean constitution, must approve the motion within 180 days. Earlier on Thursday, parliament—called the National Assembly—held a fifth round of inquiries in which only two out of 18 witnesses appeared.

Opposition People 's Party lawmaker Lee Yong - Joo at the National Assembly's third round of hearings on December 14, 2016.
Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
Opposition People 's Party lawmaker Lee Yong - Joo at the National Assembly's third round of hearings on December 14, 2016.

But for frustrated citizens, who rallied against Park in recent mass demonstrations, 180 days is far too long of a waiting period.

"Protestors don't want to be patient, they don't want to allow the court to go for that long. The people's will is that Park should resign immediately and that the Court should rule accordingly," Bruce Klinger, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told CNBC on Thursday.

But that's unlikely to happen.

The courts has indicated it may take up to the full six months because of the complicated nature of the case, which will further aggravate a public hungry for political justice and extend policy paralysis in government, Klinger noted.

If Park is indeed ejected from office, presidential elections will be held within the next two months. The 64-year old was named as an accomplice in an influence-peddling scandal involving her friend Choi Soon Sil, but has denied any wrongdoing.

The case has thrown the future of South Korea's leadership into question, and the longer presidential elections are postponed, the longer decision making and critical reforms are delayed. Moreover, the level of political infighting is only getting worse.

The acting President, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, believes he has the full powers of a presidency but that's angered the opposition party in the National Assembly, who want him to step down immediately and limit his role to caretaker, Klinger said.


Since taking over on Dec. 9, Hwang has already involved himself in state affairs by urging measures to contain an on-going outbreak of avian influenza as well as announcing his intention to appoint new chiefs at public organizations, the Korea Times reported.

"All these layers of political uncertainty (are) going to play out on the economic side and slow down growth," Klinger remarked.

The damage is likely to be seen early next year.

"The downside risk to the economy, mostly stemming from domestic political uncertainties, is expected to materialize early in 2017. In response, we expect policy coordination between the Bank of Korea and the Ministry of Finance by cutting the policy rate in the first quarter and front-loading of the 2017 budget in the first half," Citi economists said in a note on Thursday.

The government may consider a supplementary budget after first-quarter data readings, they added.

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