10 Mar 2017

Something is rotten in the state of …South Korea

South Korea is taking over the world news today – the President Park Geun-hye has been officially stripped of her powers which brought a wave of protests and, unfortunately, finished with the death of two people.

President Park’s 4-year presidency became the focus of the world’s attention last November when thousands of people went on the streets of Seoul demanding her resignation after the revelation that people of her staff have been involved in bribery, abusing power and corruption. The main part of the accusations was focused on Choi Soon-sil, close friend and advisor of the president, who was arrested in October 2016. Choi was blamed of taking $36 million as bribery to secure government support for one of South Korea’s biggest chaebol Samsung. The vice-chairman of Samsung Lee Jae-young was also arrested earlier this year. Yesterday, he stood in front of a preliminary court denying all the charges raised against him.

The removal of president Park is the first in the political history of the country. She was the 18th President of South Korea elected with 51,6% of the votes in 2013. Shortly after her inauguration her popularity grew up to 63,4%, the highest ranking for a president until that moment. Unfortunately, her controversial policy—which brought tension between the country and North Korea and China—the loss of support from her party-colleagues of Grand National Part (GNP), the international sex-scandal with the Blue House spokesman and the catastrophe of MV Sewol in 2014, which cost the life of 304 people, cost the President dearly, and by 2015 she had the support of only 30% of the people.

Despite that, in November last year the streets of Seoul turned into a battle field between her supporters, police and thousands of other people shouting for her resignation. This morning once again crowds from both sides gathered around the court waiting for the final decision of the judges. After the high court’s announcement that President Park had violated the law and her removal was “overwhelmingly to the benefit of the protection of the constitution,” a wave of violence spread and caused the intervention of the police. As a result, two people died in the collision.

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Park herself didn’t appear in the court, her lawyers denying the accusations of wrongdoing. However, now that she has no more immunity, the 65-year old could face criminal charges of bribery and abuse of power.

Currently, the president’s post is taken by the country’s prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn but new elections would be held within 65 days. According to foreign political observers, the elections in South Korea will define the current international situation in the region. While President Park is in alignment with the USA, as it can be seen by her decision to allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile shield. She wanted to install the radar and the missile as protection against potential attacks from North Korea. Her opposition though, favours the suspension of the THAAD installation, which is also unofficially supported by China.

If the new president of the country is from the opposition party, that would probably cost the US another diplomatic interruption, especially after President Trump withdrew the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January, thus leaving China as the main influencer in the fastest growing market of the Asia-Pacific

  • Blue house – the executive office and official residence of the South Korean head of state, the President of the Republic of Korea.
  • chaebol – Korean word for business conglomerate