South Korea’s Political Turmoil: Demonstrations, Impeachment, but far from over

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By Magnus Lundström

On March 10th, 2017, the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye (see picture above) was impeached by the Supreme Court. A few months earlier, in December 2016, the Korean parliament voted for this impeachment following weeks of massive demonstrations in Seoul and other places in the country. The first female president in South Korean history will now be the first president in Korean political history to be impeached and removed.

The scandal which rocked Korean politics during the fall of 2016 has its basis in a friendship stretching back to the 1970s. Impeached President Park became friends with her father’s – former dictator Park – spiritual advisor’s daughter, Choi Soon-Sil. The two girls stuck together, and Ms. Park relied even more on her friend Ms. Choi following the murder of her father in 1979. Ms. Park entered Korean politics in the 1990s after the country’s democratization, and was in 2012 elected president as candidate for the Conservative party. During her first time as president, her friend, Choi Soon-Sil, regained her influence over the president. Allegations have now been made that Ms. Choi’s support had more sinister objectives. For instance, Ms. Choi has allegedly used her influence to indirectly force Korean companies to donate large sums of money to a charitable foundation that she controls. Her daughter was accepted to the prestigious Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, despite insufficient grades. Furthermore, many critics have claimed that this merely constitutes the tip of an iceberg. Earlier this year, the CEO of the tech-giant Samsung, was arrested on suspicions of corruption, linked to this very affair.

The demonstration I participated in. Photo by Magnus Lundström

I participated in the huge demonstrations in Seoul in the fall of 2016, filling the role of the observer. Week after week up to 1.5 million people took to the streets to show their anger and frustration with the scandal. Back then, the demonstrations were complete calm. Now, reports have been coming in that the demonstrations have become more violent. The day the president was impeached, two people died during the demonstrations. President Park has now lost her position and is no longer immune against prosecution. Furthermore, a new presidential election is to be held within two months. Meanwhile the huge corruption scandal is unravelling with more and more prominent people involved. South Korea has been a democracy since 1987, and is thus fairly young. The ground which was laid back then is crumbling, following power abuse and corruption. Hopefully, the young Korean democracy will deal with this, and through it consolidate the democratic institutions of the country. The future will tell.

By Magnus Lundström

Banner photo: Flickr CC

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