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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Feb. 10)

All News 07:15 February 10, 2017

Time tight
: Constitutional Court should put brake on delay tactics by Park's lawyers

The Constitutional Court appears unlikely to rule on President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment this month as the last hearing has apparently been scheduled for Feb. 22.

Still, the eight justices of the court stand the chance of reaching their decision before acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi is set to retire on Mar. 13.

The court on Tuesday accepted eight of the 17 witnesses Park’s lawyers had asked for and decided to hold hearings until Feb. 22.

It usually takes Constitutional Court justices about two weeks to write their opinions after the final hearing. In 2004 when the court tried the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, its bench ended hearings on April 30 and came up with its decision on May 14, two weeks later. Two weeks after Feb. 22 is Mar. 8, five days before Lee’s retirement.

If Park’s lawyers manage to extend the hearings beyond Mar. 13 through delay tactics, the bench will be reduced to seven justices.

To remove the president from office, at least six justices must endorse the impeachment. The court originally consists of nine justices, but one seat became vacant as Chief Justice Park Han-chul retired at the end of last month. Lee took over from Park.

Mar. 13 is expected to be a turning point in the court decision. Experts say the seven-justice bench is likely to rule favorably for Park, with the eight-justice court advantageous to the National Assembly. In light of the integrity of a legal decision, a ruling by eight justices is more complete than one by seven justices. Concerned with the possible seven-justice ruling, Chief Justice Park said last month that the court should make its decision before Mar. 13.

For the court to reach its decision before the day, it should proceed the hearings without a hitch. A little setback may prolong the trial until after Mar. 13.

Time has gotten tight with the trial because of delay tactics by Park’s lawyers. They asked for as many as 39 witnesses on Jan. 23. The court accepted 10 of them. On Feb. 1, they also asked for 17 witnesses. They cite the impartiality of the trial and Park’s right to defense, but the more witnesses are called, the longer a trial becomes.

Witness nonappearance has also extended the trial time. Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, for instance, was accepted as a witness. He was set to appear in court on Tuesday, but a day earlier, he had submitted a statement that he could not appear for health reasons, but that he would show up if the court reschedules his appearance. The court pushed back the date of his testimony to Feb. 20.

Park’s lawyers hinted that they might ask for additional witnesses and that they will let the court know if Park will appear in court when it will schedule the last hearing. Earlier, Park had refused requests for her appearance.

The Constitutional Court should put a brake on time-wasting delay attempts by Park’s lawyers. The court is pressed for time to take a decision through eight justices.

A large portion of the public want the court to reach a decision as early as possible to get the state affairs back to normal soon.

As the court decided to hold hearings until Feb. 22, pushing the day of ruling closer to Mar. 13 and sparking speculations of possible rejection of the impeachment, the political circle started making a commotion.

The leaders of three opposition parties on Wednesday held a meeting on the trial delay, and called for the court to make a speedy decision. They emphasized the court should not be tricked by Park and urged it to uphold the impeachment. They pledged to participate in yet another pro-impeachment candlelight rally Saturday.

“Opposition politicians should shift attention from the presidential race to the impeachment trial. They should try every possible means to ensure the impeachment,” Moon Jae-in, former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party who is leading the pack of presidential hopefuls, said on Tuesday. Lee Jae-myung, Seongnamg City mayor and presidential candidate of the party, held a press conference in front of the Constitutional Court. “If justices fail to complete the task of impeaching Park, their crime will be remembered by posterity,” Lee said. Meanwhile, some Saenuri Party lawmakers began to join anti-impeachment protests last weekend.

But politicians either for or against Park’s impeachment should refrain from trying to pressure the court. It may hurt the impartiality of the ruling and cause disputes. They should also stop trying to inflame the protests. If they instigate protestors for political gains, the nation will suffer from a severe aftermath after the court ruling.

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