The down­fall of South Korea’s ‘Queen of Elec­tions’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Elected on a “no-cor­rup­tion” ticket, South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye now looks set to be­come the coun­try’s first sit­ting pres­i­dent to be for­mally ques­tioned as a sus­pect in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It’s a stun­ning fall from grace for a politi­cian who had run as an in­cor­rupt­ible can­di­date, declar­ing her­self be­holden to no­body and “mar­ried to the na­tion.”

High-level cor­rup­tion has long been a stain on South Korea’s demo­cratic cre­den­tials and the pres­i­den­tial Blue House is no stranger to al­le­ga­tions of crony­ism. Since South Korea’s first free and fair elec­tion in 1987, ev­ery pres­i­dent has faced graft in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter leav­ing of­fice and one-Roh Moo-Hyun-com­mit­ted sui­cide as a cor­rup­tion probe closed in on his fam­ily. Their cases of­ten in­volved fam­ily mem­bers who were able to lever­age links to the pres­i­dent in a so­ci­ety where po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence has traditionally had a very close and un­healthy rap­port with busi­ness suc­cess.

Park, the daugh­ter of mil­i­tary strong­man Park Chung-Hee who led the coun­try from 1961 to 1979, was meant to be dif­fer­ent. Both her par­ents were as­sas­si­nated and, es­tranged from her two sib­lings, un­mar­ried and child­less, she pro­moted her­self as in­vul­ner­a­ble to nepo­tism. “I have no fam­ily to look af­ter nor chil­dren to in­herit my prop­erty ... I want to devote my­self to the na­tion and the peo­ple,” she said in a speech dur­ing the 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The im­age of duty and self­sac­ri­fice played well with the con­ser­va­tive base of her rul­ing Saenuri Party, espe­cially older vot­ers who saw her as a vir­tu­ous sur­vivor of per­sonal tragedy.

‘Queen of Elec­tions’

As chair­woman be­tween 2004-2006, Park was cred­ited with turn­ing around the party’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes, win­ning a num­ber of key polls and earn­ing her the nick­name “Queen of Elec­tions”. As pres­i­dent, she con­tin­ued to cul­ti­vate the per­sona of the na­tion’s “self­less daugh­ter”-a pri­vate per­son who nor­mally dined alone and spent what lit­tle free time she had in the com­pany of her dogs.

All the more shock­ing then were the rev­e­la­tions of the ex­tra­or­di­nary in­flu­ence wielded over the pres­i­dent by her long time friend and con­fi­dante Choi Soon-Sil-now in­dicted on charges of co­er­cion and abuse of power. Pros­e­cu­tors on Sun­day said Park had played a “col­lu­sive role” in Choi’s crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, which in­cluded co­erc­ing con­glom­er­ates into do­nat­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to non­profit foun­da­tions, al­legedly for Choi’s per­sonal gain. Park also faces al­le­ga­tions that she leaked con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments to Choi, who holds no of­fi­cial po­si­tion, and sought her ad­vice on mat­ters of state, in­clud­ing key ap­point­ments. The scan­dal has seen Park’s ap­proval rat­ings plunge to record lows, as hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­tes­tors have taken to the streets in a se­ries of weekly protests to de­mand that she re­sign. “It isn’t just about cor­rup­tion. Peo­ple gen­uinely think they have been de­ceived by Park Geun-Hye,” said Kim Jong-Yup, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Han­shin Univer­sity. “They thought she had in­her­ited all the good qual­i­ties of her par­ents-the ini­tia­tive and drive for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of her fa­ther and the car­ing and fem­i­nine char­ac­ter of her mother. “They thought she was Park Chung-Hee with­out dic­ta­tor­ship. But now the fan­tasy has been bro­ken and they re­al­ize they have been wrong,” Kim said.

The ‘lonely’ pres­i­dent

In a tele­vised apol­ogy ear­lier this month, Park spoke of her “lonely” life as pres­i­dent, and ac­knowl­edged she had been “care­less” and over-trust­ing in her re­la­tion­ship with Choi. Un­der South Korea’s constitution, a sit­ting pres­i­dent can­not be charged with a crim­i­nal of­fence ex­cept in­sur­rec­tion or trea­son. But she can be in­ves­ti­gated by pros­e­cu­tors and pos­si­bly charged af­ter leav­ing of­fice. “My own sense is that this is a friend­ship run badly amok,” said Robert Kelly, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Bu­san Na­tional Univer­sity. “It sounds a lot like she was lonely and lost sight of proper bound­aries. “Choi’s in­flu­ence was likely in­ap­pro­pri­ate and un­eth­i­cal, but it is not ob­vi­ously crim­i­nal. Bar­ring some bomb­shell rev­e­la­tion, I doubt Park Geun-hye will step down,” Kelly said. More than 50 com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing giants like Sam­sung and Hyundai, were al­legedly forced to do­nate a to­tal of 77.4 bil­lion won ($65.5 mil­lion) to the two foun­da­tions con­trolled by Choi. Ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, many acted out of fear of reprisals, like harsh tax au­dits or de­lays in get­ting reg­u­la­tory ap­provals. “Al­though Park kept her dis­tance from her fam­ily and rel­a­tives, her un­con­di­tional trust in Choi led her to be­lieve that the coun­try would ben­e­fit from these foun­da­tions,” said Han Hee-Won, a law pro­fes­sor at Dong­guk Univer­sity. “This is a po­lit­i­cal scan­dal rather than cor­rup­tion. There is no proof yet that Park took the mil­lions for her­self,” Han said.

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-O-Cha pre­sides over a mass pledge of al­le­giance to the late Thai King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej dur­ing a cer­e­mony at the Govern­ment House in Bangkok.—AFP


SEOUL: Sup­port­ers of South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye wave the na­tional flags dur­ing a pro-Park rally at Seoul sta­tion in Seoul.

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