The president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye is entangled into a political scandal that is very likely to lead to impeachment by the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. The president’s informal adviser Choi Soon-sil has been accused and arrested for abuse of power, intervening in government affairs, and unlawful seizure of taxes. Among all of her charges, the most outrageous component is that Choi is not a government official and lacks any qualifications to interfere with executive affairs. After the recent series of scandals, dubbed “Choi Soon-sil Gate” in South Korea, the President’s approval rating dropped down to five percent, notably with a less than a one percent approval rating from citizens under thirty. Massive demonstrations calling for the President’s resignation or impeachment are taking place in several major cities, including Seoul, Busan, and Gwangju.
Rumors had been prevalent about an unofficial adviser to the President since she was a member of the National Assembly. Yet the recent reports have revealed much more about the relationship between the President and Choi. According to JTBC, a private broadcasting center in South Korea, a tablet PC left in Choi’s previous office included more than two hundred classified government documents including information about personal, foreign, and domestic policies. Overwhelming circumstantial and direct evidence proved Choi’s malfeasance and manipulative relationship with the President. It has been revealed that high-ranking officials in the executive branch consulted with Choi particularly in personal affairs. Not only Choi, but President Park herself also gave personal requests to government branches and large enterprises to behave in favor of Choi’s personal profit. Government officials including the previous policy chief in the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism were demoted from their positions after they refused to follow the President’s unreasonable request to favor Choi.
How the scandal became public so quickly is quite ironic. Choi’s first scandal happened as a result of her daughter. Chung Yoo-ra, is a student in Ewha University, the best woman’s university in Korea. It was revealed within the Ewha University that Chung received full credit for a course without ever having attended class. Because the university is one of the most prestigious educational institutes in Korea, students were outraged. Moreover, Students of Ewha University had already begun a demonstration calling for the resignation of their President even before the disclosure of Chung’s unjust privilege. Chung’s incident only added fire to the demonstration against the President of the university. Soon, the South Korean public’s inquiries revealed connections to Choi Soon-sil.
Choi Soon-sil herself is the daughter and successor of Choi Taemin, the founder of the Eternal Life Church. The elder Choi has been described as South Korea’s Rasputin. He became close with President Park after the death of her mother in an assassination attempt against Park’s father, dictator Park Chung-hee. Ever since, Choi family’s influence over Park Geun-hye only became stronger. Due to the background of the Choi family, it is suspected that President Park is not only relying on Choi as a friend, but also as a religious anchor.
Choi Soon-sil was suspected to be in control of Foundation Mir and Foundation K-Sports, both established as nonprofit organizations by the largest business enterprises in Korea, including Samsung and Hanwha. Yet, testimonies by previous executive board members have raised doubts both that Choi was ever directly involved with these foundations, and that President Park herself ordered collection of funds for the foundations. These funds were not utilized to support any cultural projects or the sports industry, which were the alleged focuses of Foundation Mir and Foundation K-sports, but for Choi Soon-sil to buy real estate. Choi is also suspected of influencing President Park to request the denial of government aid to Hanjin Maritime, one Korea’s largest maritime companies, because the corporation did not donate enough funds to Foundation Mir. After an overseas escape to Germany, Denmark, and England, Choi returned to Korea and was promptly arrested on November 3.
The leadership of the Democratic Party, the largest opposing party in the National Assembly, has called for the resignation of the President and announced that they may reach an agreement to impeach the President. In her November 4 apology, President Park apologized to the public. She said that Choi has helped her go through “difficult times” that she “tried so hard to genuinely help the nation”, but the results broke her heart. The President also stated that she is willing to be investigated. Yet she again is criticized for saying that “due to the current security and economic difficulties Korea is meeting, government administration must not be ceased,” which many citizens believe means that she does not have any intentions of leaving her position. According to a CNN report, 12,000 demonstrators marched on October 30, calling for Park’s resignation. Public demonstrations against the President are heating up, drawing more and more participants each day. The Korean police have estimated that over the weekend, tens of thousands will assemble at Gwanghwamun square in Seoul, only a few blocks away from the presidential residence.
In a democratic country, a President is elected to represent the will of the nation. Intervention from a non-governmental figure is unacceptable, because that individual does not represent anyone but oneself. As more and more details are revealed of Choi’s intervention with state affairs, the entire nation is becoming supportive of the idea that the President was merely a puppet of Choi, never a legitimate chief-of-state. Any governmental official speaking out against Choi was either fired or demoted throughout the course of President Park’s term. President Park’s policy of Creative Economy has been criticized for doing minimal good for the general public, however it turned out the policy was a good channel to raise funds for Choi. Choi’s intervention and President Park’s refusal to cut off her personal relationship with the Choi family has resulted in an unprecedented political scandal that has enraged the entire population of South Korea.
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