South Korea's President Faces Calls for Resignation as Possible Impeachment Looms
South Korea is in a state of political turmoil linked to their President, Park Geun-hye, being accused of leaking protected/classified documents to an acquaintance & advisor who, in turn, profited off the information she gathered. The advisor/acquaintance would be Choi Soon-sil, who stands accused of "abuse of authority, coercion, attempted coercion, and attempted fraud.”1 Essentially, Choi Soon-sil stands accused of making use of the information she obtained through illegal leaks of intelligence/information authorized by President Park Geun-hye (though likely carried out by Presidential aides). Choi Soon-sil would use the information to, among other things, essentially lobby major companies for donations to foundations or groups she could control the spending of. Or, to quote directly from BBC once more: “Ms. Choi is also alleged to have pressured companies for big donations to foundations from which she benefited –claims that have even swept up Samsung in the investigation.”1 Predictably, the response from the South Korean public has been both potent & vocal, with reports spreading that potential impeachment proceedings are now underway.2
As with all things, a glance at the history behind the present events can be especially telling – so let’s look back at the history between President Park Geun-hye and Ms. Choi Soon-sil.
“In 1974, Park Geun-hye's mother was killed by a North Korean spy who had intended to kill her father, the then military leader Park Chung-hee. Ms. Park, then aged 22, returned from her studies in Europe to become a stand-in first lady. It was then she got to know Choi Tae-min, a pseudo-Christian leader who set up a cult called The Church of Eternal Life. He said he had been visited by the soul of Ms. Park's late mother who asked him to guide her. He became Ms. Park's mentor, while also amassing considerable wealth and power. When Park senior was assassinated by his head of intelligence in 1979, there was speculation it was because the spy chief was worried the president was being manipulated by the man dubbed ‘the Korean Rasputin’. By this point Ms. Park was firm friends with Mr. Choi's daughter, Choi Soon-sil. Their critics believe she perpetuated her father's habits.”1
What does this tell us? Well, we can readily see why President Park would have an especially close, trusting friendship with Ms. Choi. They’ve been close for years, and both Ms. Choi and Ms. Choi’s father became deeply connected to President Park’s family after the death of President Park’s mother. Whether the relationship in the modern day is based more on matters of faith or friendship matters little - the point of special note here is that the connection between the two carries deep, dependent roots. President Park’s reliance on Ms. Choi, though, isn’t the issue. President Park seeking support from a friend or spiritual advisor would be one thing, but the leaking of classified and protected information for the purposes of coercion and fraud is a separate matter entirely.
Now – Ms. Choi has, herself, confessed to committing what she referred to as an “unpardonable crime,”1 – an admission many would find especially damning. Her attorney, however, insists this does not amount to an actual confession of guilt in a legal sense.1 The question, then, looms of what Ms. Choi felt herself so guilty of, and the implications seem obvious. So – why haven’t charges actually been raised against President Park? Well, South Korean law provides that “the president has immunity from prosecution,”3 – which leads us directly to the public calls for President Park’s resignation. “Ms Park, whose approval rating has dropped to 5%, has apologised twice on national television but has so far resisted calls to resign.”3 And so we’ve gone full circle to why there are now proceedings underway that could result in impeachment. If President Park resigns or is impeached, her legal protections will end – and with her approval ratings at rock bottom levels it seems likely that resignation or impeachment are the obvious outcome.
The political turmoil, growing unrest, and vocal protests in South Korea tell us a few things. Perhaps first and foremost, it highlights the value of a democratic style of government. While the sitting President stands accused of illegal acts she cannot, presently, be charged for – the people have the right to speak up and protest in an effort to ensure their political/government leader is held accountable. And, quite actively and presently, they are doing precisely that. The outcome remains uncertain, but it seems fitting to close with a comparison to North Korea – where such public outcry would almost certainly be met with a fierce, violent crackdown.