The motion to impeach South Korean President Park Geun-hye, upheld by the country's Constitutional Court and resulting in her immediate dismissal 30 years after South Korea became a democracy, is a setback in the country's political history.
The court ruled that Park abused her presidential powers to help her close friend and confidante, Choi Soon-il, pursue personal interests, and tarnished the spirit of the rule of law by interfering with efforts to shed light on the truth.
It was determined that the negative impacts that Park's actions have on constitutional order far outweigh the demerits of dismissing her from the presidency. The judgment is understandable, considering the chaos in which the country now finds itself.
The court recognized that Choi profited illegally through programs run by foundations set up with capital that Park forced major conglomerates to contribute. It also ruled that it was illegal for Park to show Choi official government documents.
That Choi, a private citizen, had such great influence over President Park came as a shock to the South Korean public. Park cannot be said to have taken appropriate action in regards to her murky relationship with Choi.
At the same time, however, the forcible removal of a president whom the South Korean public voted into office has negative impacts on South Korean society, because winning the right to direct presidential election was the biggest accomplishment of South Korea's democratization movement.
In the presidential election that took place five years ago, the name of Park's father -- Park Chung-hee -- was often brought up at campaign rallies. While he suppressed democratization efforts, he is said to have been the driving force behind South Korea's economic development.
His daughter, Park Geun-hye, took the reins of government with the high expectations of those who looked back fondly on those years as being hopeful, despite rampant poverty. She appeared to have no ties to any kind of corruption, which made the public even more hopeful.
Park called for bringing South Korean society together during her election campaign, but once she assumed the presidency, she grew heavy handed and refused to listen to the voices of those who opposed her. Domestically, she only held press conferences on New Year's, and rebuffed criticism that she was dodging accountability. As a leader of a democratic society, she posed many problems.
While public opinion leaned heavily toward Park's impeachment, Park's supporters have expressed fierce objections.
However, impeachment is an answer to the political question of whether or not to strip one of her public position, and is not one that pursues criminal punishment. We ask that the issue be handled with aplomb.
Prosecutors are expected to launch a criminal investigation into the matter, and Park must respond to the investigation with integrity.
Without exception, presidents of South Korea after the country became a democracy have all faced scandals toward the end of their terms. It has been pointed out that this is due to the great concentration of power in the presidency, and the need for constitutional amendments to disperse that power has been discussed. Although reaching a consensus on constitutional revision will not be easy, we will continue to keep a close watch on how such a move is incorporated into South Korea's efforts toward a more mature democracy.
An election to select the new president will take place by early May at the latest.
The ruling party has split apart and is losing steam, while the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, whose core members comprise close aides to former President Roh Moo-hyun, is gaining momentum. It's highly likely that the next administration will be a left-leaning one.
There is a prominent tendency in South Korea today to completely deny the achievements of the Park administration. The next administration will likely try to revamp all of the policies put forth by its preceding administration, but it must not let its desire to renounce the Park administration become its major motivation for policymaking. The areas of foreign diplomacy and national security policy, in particular, require continuity.
The international landscape surrounding South Korea is looking increasingly grim. North Korea has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles, and there's no guarantee that it won't conduct another nuclear test, which, if it were to take place, would be its sixth. There are strong suspicions that the murder of Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, was carried out by the North Korean state. The alleged actions of the administration of Kim Jong Un have been beyond the pale, jeopardizing its friendly relations with Malaysia.
Cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the U.S. is crucial in dealing with North Korea.
Moon Jae-min, who is believed to be the main contender for the presidency from the Minjoo Party of Korea, has made remarks in the past questioning the deployment of U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic-missile systems to South Korea, as well as the December 2015 agreement on the issue of so-called "comfort women" reached between the Japanese and South Korean governments.
The latter bilateral agreement contributed greatly to repairing tense relations between the two countries. Both sides must retain their commitment to it.
The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which promotes the sharing of information relating to North Korea, is also important in the Japan-South Korea relationship. Rescinding it could have a negative impact on trilateral defense cooperation among our two countries and the U.S., which is rushing to deploy THADD. The U.S.'s intention to create a fait accompli before the presidential election in South Korea is obvious.
South Korea is now a major power that has great influence over the state of affairs in Northeast Asia. To the South Korean political leaders who are aspiring to rise to power in the next presidential election, we ask that they make perfectly clear that they will adhere to the basic line of existing diplomatic policy.
While our neighbor faces domestic turmoil, Japanese ambassador to South Korea, Yasumasa Nagamine, is still in Japan after being recalled by the Japanese government in protest of a "comfort woman" statue in Busan. Isn't it about time he be sent back to Seoul?
The next president of South Korea will face the major task of bringing together a society that has been split apart. Our hope is that South Korea overcomes this challenge and rebuilds a stable society.