Park Geun-hye’s Fall From Power
South Korea’s 11th president, Park Geun-hye, was removed from office Friday, March 10th, by the country’s Constitutional Court, having previously been impeached amid a corruption scandal. She began her time in office in February 2013. Park was the first female president in South Korea.
Part of her success is said to have stemmed from being related to her father, Park Chung-hee, who was the third South Korean president. He led a coup d’état on May 16th, 1961, overthrowing the previous government known as the Second Republic, which remained in power for a mere nine months. The former president, Yun Po-Sŏn, remained in power until the elections in 1963, where Park Chung-hee defeated him, and was then re-elected in 1967. He made an amendment allowing for a president to serve three full terms in 1971, declared a national emergency shortly thereafter, imposed martial law in 1972, and finally imposed a repressive authoritarian regime. His wife was assassinated in 1974, while he was assassinated in 1979 amid riots and demonstrations by then-leader of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
Several sources, such as the Washington Post and CBS News, agree that the removal of President Park Geun-hye was unanimous. According to the Washington Post, she was “the first democratically elected leader in the country to be stripped of her powers”. She was impeached in December and had her presidential powers suspended; however, she remained in the Blue House, South Korea’s executive office.
Choi Tae-min is described by the BBC as “a pseudo-Christian leader who set up a cult called The Church of Eternal Life. He claimed that Park Geun-hye’s mother’s soul visited him, asking him to guide her. As time went on, Park became close to Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-Sil.
Choi Soon-Sil reportedly used her relationship with Park and her family to pressure companies for donations to her two non-profit foundations, known as Mir and K-Sports. Eight companies have reportedly admitted to donating to the foundations, including Samsung, who “denies it did so in return for any favours” (BBC). Lee Jae-Yong, the de facto head of Samsung, is now on trial for bribery and embezzlement.
Other accusations include Choi writing some of Park’s speeches, receiving confidential government documents, and taking advantage of some presidential budgets.
At first, Park’s apologies were “opaque”, and she later “moved on to ‘heartbroken’ public confessions of naivety” (BBC). For months, demonstrators protested against Park. Now, due to her impeachment, she is no longer granted presidential immunity and could face criminal charges.
Despite many South Koreans rejoicing, many of Park’s supporters took to the street to protest the Constitutional Court’s decision, some even clashing with the police. Numerous injuries were reported, with some sources reporting two deaths, while more recent numbers report three deaths.
The controversy surrounding Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-Sil has been going on for a long time, with numerous accusations made by both the supporters and protesters.
The country has 60 days to elect a new president. Meanwhile, tensions within Asia are growing, as relations with the United States and Japan are becoming more uncertain, and North Korea continues to push their limits.