By Sanho Kim.
The world today is seeing turbulent times. Especially more so, since influential political leaders, who should be guiding and assuring the masses, are parts of the storm. David Cameron resigned, Kim Jong-Un conducted more nuclear experiments, and Donald Trump recently won an unusual, if not ‘controversial’, election.
However, no matter what headlines the news, South Koreans are saying they got the worst of it: their president, Park Geun-Hye, is on the verge of being ousted from office—and has been claimed to be ‘mentally unfit’ for office.
President Park’s political past goes back a long way—her father, Park Chung-Hee, was also president of the country from 1963 to 1979, when he was assassinated. A major figure in modern South Korean history, Park Chung-Hee is most known as the one to lead the nation through a shockingly quick process of industrialization. However, these steps also involved violation of the constitution such as the freedom of speech and the torture of his opponents. He was praised by some for building the foundation of what South Korea is today (a globalized, and economically advanced country), but criticized by others for his methods—he had suspended the constitution and formed a dictatorship—former President Park remains a disputed figure.
Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of such a figure and currently the president of the nation, naturally could not evade doubts and controversies.
Questions rose to a peak when the president, along with her conservative Saenuri party, decided to impose government-issued Korean history textbooks on all high schools. Though she and her party have defended it as an essential correction to eradicate any bias or errors, many have denounced it, calling it an effort to erase Park Chung-Hee’s autocratic deeds from history and to save his name.
Secrets and Surprises
However, questions turned into fury with the exposure of the Choi Soon-sil scandal. Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of the leader of a shaman-esque religion, has been found to keep a close relationship with the president. The pagan leader, Choi Tae-Min, had provided advice to Park’s father, Park Chung-Hee, and is said to have had both religious and political influence over the Park family after the death of Park Chung-Hee’s wife (and Park Geun-Hye’s mother).
Likewise, it has been revealed that current President Park has allowed the daughter, Choi Soon-sil, access to the country’s confidential documents, and has depended on Choi’s support when dealing with its affairs. It has been confirmed that Choi had edited the president’s speeches, and earlier this year, Park acknowledged and admitted the civilian woman’s influence over and close affinity with her, in a public apology that the masses have reacted skeptically to.
Moreover, suspicions have been raised over the education and career of Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra. After rumors suggested corruption during her school admission and evaluation processes, Chung Yoo-ra’s having passed her courses illegally has been confirmed—despite her being absent in school for more than the limit allowed by the educational program, she had been able to graduate successfully—and thus both her high school and university degrees have been annulled.
Suspected to have been involved in such corruption and illegal handling of the state’s affairs, approval ratings for President Park have plummeted to 5% by November 2016, and nationwide protests have risen, calling for her resignation.
The Reaction of a Country
With such a turn of events, Koreans took to mass rallies and protests. Since the exposure of the scandals, there have been four major movements (as of 20 November, 2016), all of them being legal candle demonstrations. The largest took place on 12th November, when up to 1 million protesters (as estimated by organizers) walked across Seoul and called for Park to come down from power—it has been the largest civil movement of the country in decades.
Although whether Park will be listening to the protesters or not is unclear, criticism and lack of respect for the president is widespread throughout the entire nation, as protests take place across its cities, with students, minorities, and even entire families take to the streets to participate in these attempts to bring President Park down.
A look into the Koreans’ reactions and their rallies:
Translation: More than 100 thousand citizens shouting for the resignation of Park, in Busan and Gwangju. They say it’s been the largest since the June Struggle (1987), and it’s spectacular.
Translation: Farmer’s tractors heading to Seoul. This is how the people feel. (Sign on tractor says ‘Park Geun-Hye resign!’)
Featured Image: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Republic of Korea. The image has been licensed for fair use by the creator under the Creative Commons license – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). No changes have been made.