The wild world of the South Korean presidency


After her impeachment, Park officially stepped down on March 10.

Evan Rocha, Staff Writer

The (now former) president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye has had a rough last few months. She was the first female president in South Korea’s history and daughter of Park Chung-hee, the military leader (though much like a dictator) of South Korea during the 60s and 70s until his assassination in 1979. Park is a political dynasty in South Korea, and her presidency marked a perceived continuation of her family’s control over the government. A 2012 national poll showed that 36% of those surveyed believed that she was the “daughter of a dictator”, which is a very harsh accusation, even if true.

Despite her background, however, Park initially seemed like a middling president. She took a hard-line stance on North Korea (much to the US’ approval), she maintained strong relations with her geographic neighbors, and she generated a lot of approval for her optimistic policies. However, she was also fraught with controversy, most of which amounted to strong opposition to organized dissent through putting down of protests and requiring the use of state-issued textbooks in schools.

In October 2016, this all changed. As context, through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, there was a somewhat popular Christian cult leader in South Korea named Choi Tae-min. Choi had befriended Park after her father was killed, and took her under his wing to mentor her for a future in politics. Choi constantly came under fire for accusations of solicitation of bribes and other ways of using his position to leech money and gifts off of the Park family. He was once described as a “Korean Rasputin,” and after his death in 1994 his role was taken up by his daughter Choi Soon-sil. Allegations had long been levied at Park Geun-hye for her apparent ties to this family, but Park maintained that her relationship with Tae-min and later Soon-sil was unrelated to her business in government.

However, in October of last year an investigation was launched in which it was discovered that Choi Soon-sil and Park Geun-hye were involved in a massive case of extreme corruption and negligence. Park and Choi solicited over $60 million from various Korean corporations, used Park’s position to enrich Choi and her family, and Choi in particular exerted a shamanistic control over Park’s actions. After the sinking of the MV Sewol, (a tragedy in 2014 in which a ferry claimed the lives of 295 passengers, most of which were schoolchildren) Park held a secretive 7-hour meeting with Choi in her office.

This corruption and secrecy led to massive protests that would eventually lead to Park’s impeachment on December 9, 2016 and later stepping down on March 10, 2017. In her absence, she has been temporarily succeeded by her prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn.