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Shame of the Nation: President Park Geun-hye of South Korea


For more than two months there have been massive protests in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), demanding that President Park Geun-hye step down. The protests have been the largest since the the June Democratic Uprising of 1987 which forced the end of a military dictatorship. As a result of relative cultural isolation, there was not exactly enormous commentary of the events in the Anglophone press, although the events themselves were reported in a matter-of-fact sort of manner.

From an outsider’s perspective the story initially seems very strange. President Park Geun-hye, the first woman to be elected as President of South Korea and former leader of the centre-right (neoliberal and conservative) Saenuri Party. However she has fallen into a scandal involving Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of Choi Tae-min, the leader of an evangelical cult Yongsae-gyo (‘Church of Eternal Life’). This is itself is odd, but not unknown. After all, the White House under the Reagans had their own astrologer. However the extent of this influence is far greater, as a Wikileaks released cable illustrated:

Lee’s staffers are trying their best to characterize Park as not quite the unblemished princess she claims to be. On June 12, a son of the former founder of the Chung-soo Scholarship Fund, established from enormous donations to a Park Chung-hee memorial, accused Park of embezzlement and tax evasion during her tenure as the director of the fund from 1994 to 2005. Perhaps even more damaging to her image as the maiden who sacrificed herself in the service of the nation upon the assassination of her mother, Park has been linked to the late Choi Tae-min, a charismatic pastor. Rumors are rife that the late pastor had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.

Initially, Korean media argued that Choi had edited President Park’s speeches, and provided some damning evidence from a discarded laptop which included dozens of drafts of Ms Park’s presidential speeches with various edits marked by Choi, chat messages between Choi and presidential advisors, and so forth. But the real issue wasn’t an association with a cult leader but rather corruption. It wasn’t just that Choi had the president’s ear or even that they had access to confidential documents, which would have been bad enough, but rather that Choi and Park through their staff had extorted approximately $ 75 million USD from Korean chaebol, including Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG, and Lotte. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office of Korea, has laid charges against Choi and two former presidential staff, have alleged that President Park colluded with the three in certain criminal activities.

It is perhaps not surprising that eventually the RoK parliament, led by a joint motion from the three main opposition parties (Democratic Party, People’s Party, Justice Party), eventually passed an impeachement motion carried by an overwhelming number of MPs. The Korean Constitutional Court will have until June 6, 2017 to determine the validity of the impeachement. Despite its historic conservativism, the case against the President appears to be very strong.

The continuing interest in the influence of the daughter of a cult-leader over the president of RoK is fascinating itself as an oddball story. But that in itself is not sufficient to explain the collapse in their public support or that millions of people took the streets demanding their resignation. The cause of that – and keeping in mind that the big protests occurred after the financial revelations – was undoubtedly the massive degree of corruption and extortion between RoK’s government and the chaebol, the conservative, paternalistic, corporate families. The personal shame of Park Geun-hye is that she was caught; the national shame of the Republic of Korea is that this corporate-government collusion is business as usual. The reaction from millions of ordinary Koreans who are tired and angry is understandable enough, even if is not understand by many corporate and government leaders. What is being witnessed here is the most significant transformation in the opinion of Korean people towards their governing and corporate elites in over thirty years.

Thanks to Derick Y., in Seoul, for his advice and information

Source: Talk politics.

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