President Roh gets back his seat
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun returned to work in a stronger position on Friday after a Constitutional Court reinstated him by overturning parliament's unprecedented vote to impeach him nine weeks ago.
Roh had been in political limbo since the opposition-led chamber voted amid rowdy scenes on March 12 to impeach him -- barely a year into his single five-year term -- for breach of an election law, economic mismanagement and corruption among aides.
A majority of the court's nine crimson-robed judges ruled these were not grounds enough to oust the leader of the world's 12th-largest economy and thrust it into chaos amid a nascent economic recovery and a crisis over the North's nuclear aims.
"When I think of the seriousness of the trial, the political vacuum and the social costs, my heart still hurts," Moon Jae-in, Roh's lawyer and former chief of staff, told reporters.
After lunch with aides on Friday, Roh returned to his office in the sprawling Blue House compound for the first time in nine weeks to draft a speech he will make on television on Saturday. He had left the grounds only a few times, including to vote in last month's parliamentary election won by the pro-Roh Uri Party.
"The court decision is a victory for the people," chanted Roh supporters outside the court as cars circled flying yellow balloons, the Uri Party's colour and Roh's favourite.
To the tune of the 1973 song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree", hundreds of "Nosamo" (We Love Roh) group members gathered for a celebratory rock concert later at a major intersection festooned with balloons and ribbons.
"No is Yes!," read the yellow headbands of many supporters. Roh is pronounced "No" in Korean.
While politically empowered after seeing off the opposition, Roh now faces the task of proving he can successfully reform the country unimpeded, with a newly compliant parliament.
But in what political analysts saw as a slap on the wrist for the impulsive Roh, the court said in its ruling the president had violated election laws, if unintentionally, and breached the constitution by calling for a referendum on his rule.
But the transgressions were not grave enough to oust Roh and force an election, it said.
Yun Young-chul, the president of the court, said in the televised reading of the judges' opinions that the counts of mismanagement and corruption were not grounds for impeachment.
"The court is overturning the case, since the impeachment case failed to win the required majority votes," Yun said at the end of a 25-minute session. A majority of six was needed.
The verdict meant Roh was automatically reinstated after two months spent reading, feeding pheasants and hiking with his wife in the heavily guarded mountains above the Blue House.
"He returned with even stronger powers. That will enable his government to speed up and execute many pending policies," said Jwa Seung-hee, chief economist at the Korea Economic Research think-tank.
"His priorities are to create jobs and revive the weak local economy. We also hoped he could play a role in helping to calm foreign investors' concerns over conflicts between management and labour unions."