Park Geun-hye or the fall of the Iron Lady of South Korea

She entered the Blue House, the residence of the President of South Korea, as the most popular politician in her country. She has just left it as the most unpopular one, marked by one of the biggest political scandals in South Korea, impeachment and a possible trial for corruption. 

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Park Geun-hye’s biography is as turbulent as the history of her country. She first moved to the Blue House at the age of 10, when her father Park Chung-Hee seized power through a coup d’etat in 1961. When she was 24, her mother was murdered during an attack targeting her father. Park Guen-hye was then forced to stop her studies in France and return to South Korea to act as the first lady.

Park Geun-hye with her family
Park Geun-hye with her parents and younger siblings. Source: Reuters.

The death of the mother was a very traumatic experience and Park Guen-hye found consolation in teachings of Choi Tae-min, the leader and founder of the “Church of Eternal Life”. The close relation between Park Guen-hye and Choi Tae-min continued until his death and evolved after in a profound friendship with the daughter of spiritual leader, Choi Soon-sil.

ark Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil in 1979
Choi Soon-sil and Park Geun-hye (acting then as the first lady) in 1979. Picture retrieved from The Korea Times.

Since then, Choi Soon-sil used her privileged position and over time she illegally earned more than 60 million dollars in exchange of political favours for Korean companies and influence over the president.

 

Although corruption is a common phenomenon in South Korea, the “Choigate” scandale caused popular anger. Hundreds of thousands of people went on streets to demand Geun-gye’s destitution. Guen-hye who was elected in 2012 with the highest percentage ever obtained by a Korean presidential candidate during the democratic era, in four years became one of the most unpopular person in the country. Following various polls from the beginning of 2017, 70% of Koreans approved the impeachment.

 

Park Geun-hye, after primary reticence to comment the accusations, ultimately expressed her public apologies, bursting in tears and presenting herself as a lonely leader who was taken advantage of by one of closest friends. However, she did not convince public opinion or the political class. In December, 2016 she was impeached by the Parliament, for months later, on March, 10, 2017 the Constitutional Court confirmed the destitution. The political decision met great public approval.

The “Choigate” outburst also displayed Park Geun-hye incapacity to communicate with her opponents or public opinion. During the months of the crisis, she refused to explain her role in the corruption scandal and apologized publicly ony in the end of October, 2016, when her popularity rate dropped to 5%, the lowest public approval in the democratic history of South Korea. This inability of Park Guen-hye to participate in a democratic dialogue was not a novelty and could be already observed in 2014 during the Sewol ferry disaster.

In April, 2014, a ferry in route to Jeju capsized. A big part of its passengers, 300 people, mostly high-school students, died waiting for the rescue. Other 170 passengers were rescued by fishing boats and private vessels who arrived on the place 40 minutes before the Coast Guard. Park Geun-hye disappeared for seven hours before addressing her public condolences. Moreover, while refusing to accept critics for negligence, the Park administration created a media monitoring that detected and prosecuted any person who criticized the President for the way she handled the tragedy.

On March, 12, 2017 Park Guen-hye left the Blue House. The former president, who in four months left the Presidential Palace only once, to visit her parents’ grave, said that she was sorry that she could not complete her tenure, but that one day “the truth will  be revealed”. She went then for her private residence in a company of 800 policemen.

New presidential elections in South Korea should take place in 60 days.

Park Guen-hye leaving the Blue House
Park Geun-hye leaving the Blue House (credit: AFP/Getty Image)
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