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What's Next For South Korea After Ousting Its President

South Korean demonstrators shoot off firecrackers in Seoul on March 11, 2017 to celebrate the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye during a candlelit rally demanding the arrest of the ousted president.
Jung Yeon-Je
AFP/Getty Images
South Korean demonstrators shoot off firecrackers in Seoul on March 11, 2017 to celebrate the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye during a candlelit rally demanding the arrest of the ousted president.

Updated at 6:10 a.m. ET Sunday

After being stripped of her powers and removed from office on Friday, former South Korean President Park Geun-hye has left the presidential office and compound, the Blue House.

Our original post continues below:

For so many Saturdays, throngs of South Koreans showed up on the streets of central Seoul to rally for the removal of their president, Park Geun-hye. This Saturday evening, they showed up to celebrate: the nation's highest court upheld the National Assembly's impeachment of the president, removing her from office and immediately stripping her of power.

Jubilant Koreans sang patriotic songs and fireworks went off in the skies. The nation's placeholder government leaders are calling for calm, unity and a smooth transition.

"The Korean Government has been carrying out state affairs stably, with all ministries and agencies functioning as usual under the leadership of the acting president," said government spokesman Song Sookeun, in a statement.

But not everyone in South Korea is pleased. While public opinion polls showed three out of four South Koreans supported the president's ouster over her alleged involvement in the nation's largest-ever political corruption scandal, there remains a vocal minority of Park's supporters who want to "impeach the impeachment" and reacted violently to the court's decision. Three senior citizens have died in post-impeachment demonstrations this weekend, one of them after a speaker fell off the top of a bus and onto his head.

Park remains in the presidential Blue House, and has yet to make a statement about her removal. Her critics worry her silence so far is emboldening supporters who are refusing to accept the impeachment decision by the court. A spokesman for Park says part of the reason she hasn't moved out is because her private residence "is currently under construction for security and other matters."

But the next steps for South Korea are clear. The country will hold a snap election in two months, as mandated by law, and a compressed contest for leadership will soon get under way. After nearly a decade of conservatives in charge here, "It's really the liberals race to lose," says John Delury, an international relations professor at Seoul's Yonsei University.

One of the biggest differences between conservatives and liberals in South Korea is how they approach North Korea, a particularly big question of late following the assassination by nerve gas of regime family member Kim Jong Nam, and the test-firing of four missiles toward Japan, on Monday.

Traditionally, South Korea's liberals are more interested in engagement with the North and drawing them out, a fundamentally different approach than what the conservatives have been doing, which has increasingly frozen out Pyongyang.

But North Korea isn't the only challenge ahead. There's uncertainty in the overall region, as relations with Japan aren't great over history and territorial issues, relations with China are tense because Korea is installing a controversial U.S. missile defense system. And there's unease about where Northeast Asia stands with Washington. Despite all the questions, Delury argues the real turmoil was avoided: Things would have been far more unstable had Park gotten re-instated by the court.

"People were truly concerned about chaos, martial law, these kinds of scenarios given that an overwhelming majority of South Koreans wanted this president to go and the Assembly had decided she should go," Delury says.

Park will go. But so far, she has yet to leave the building.

Jihye Lee contributed to this story.

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