Editor’s Note: This Article Was Written In Late 2016. It Is Being Re-Published.
After all that she has been through, there is now a nude painting of Park Geun-hye.
After the past three months, the beleaguered Korean president has been through a self-imposed hell. Ever since it was discovered that her closest confidante was engaged in massive corruption, President Park and the rest of South Korean politics has been in upheaval, ranging from mass protests in Seoul to impeachments to a series of arrests, one that could potentially end with the fallen president’s arrest. In hindsight, the satirical nude painting of the president seems quaint in comparison
Although the scandal itself is only a few months old, the stage was set decades prior. Primarily, the things that led to this recent scandal started with the rule of Park Chung-hee. In the seventeen years between the coup that gave him control of South Korea to his assassination in 1979, Park ruled the nation with an authoritarian grip on many aspects of South Korean life. On top of that, under his rule, the massive family-owned conglomerates that dominated the country’s economy (chaebol) expanded rapidly and developed closer ties with the Park administration.
There is also another figure in the Park administration: the shamanistic cult leader Choi Tae-min. He is mentioned here for two reasons. First is his influence over president Park. Choi acted as a Rasputin-esque figure, accruing massive amounts of wealth and power via Park.
Second, he has a daughter: Choi Soon-sil, who was a close friend and associate to Park Chung-hee’s daughter: Park Geun-hye.
Investigations began in late October, when investigators speculated that Ms. Choi was creating foundations to enrich herself. In order to get the money to start the foundations, Choi and two staffers for president Park, Ahn Jong-bum and Jeong Ho-sung, extorted around 75 million dollars from various chaebols. On top of that, Choi was able to get the Ewha Womans University to accept her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra.
Questions were raised as to how Choi was able to do these things. Soon after, it became clear that Choi had access to confidential files and government information, as well as a variety of links to the South Korean government. The most important link: Park Geun-hye.
Within the last days of the month, Park had fired officials as a form of damage control, and Choi was being interrogated by the police. Outside the Blue House, thousands were protesting in Seoul, demanding that Park resign from her post.
Both the prime minister and the finance minister were implicated in the scandal, so Park nominated replacements: Kim Byong-joon and Yim Jong-yong. It did not help soothe tensions. Two days later, on November 3, Choi was arrested, and Park scheduled a public address, claiming that the scandal was due to her being too trusting of Choi. That too did little to allay the opposition, which wanted to see Park out of the Blue House. They simply believed that Park was trying to do everything to keep power and avoid arrest herself.
Five days later, the opposition was able to convince Park to withdraw her nominations, as well as give up control of her cabinet. Now, the prime minister, whose role is mainly titular, will now administer the cabinet. To make matters worse, by the middle of the month, Park lost not only much of her power, but also much of her popularity, falling to a shocking 4%. Like many of her predecessors, Park was leaving the office deeply unpopular.
It gets worse. The protests outside of the Blue House have grown exponentially, with tens of thousands calling for Park’s resignation. On top of that, prosecutors are now trying to question the embattled president over the corruption scandal. Within a week, they were outright accusing Park of collusion.
Then there’s the Viagra and the K-Pop. A small scandal erupted when it was discovered that the office of the president ordered hundreds of Viagra pills. The official explanation was that the pills were used to treat altitude sickness while officials were in high-altitude parts of Africa. The official explanation went further, saying that none of the 360 pills were used. A few days after President Park’s office confirmed those claims, members of South Korea’s industry and media were being questioned en masse, with some being arrested. One particular case involves Cha Eun-taek, a director of K-Pop music video. Allegedly, he used his connections to Choi to win lucrative contracts.
To cap off a horrible month for Park, the loathed president announced that she is willing to resign. However, it was clear that parliament would not let Park resign. For Park, things were going to get litigious.
Although a less eventful month, December was even worse for Park, who was now cloistered in the Blue House, once her childhood home, sleepless, friendless, and hopeless. On December 9, parliament voted to impeach Park. A court has six months to determine whether Park should be fired. In that time, premier Hwang (in the end, he was not fired) is now the president. The protestors in Seoul, which was nearing a million strong, celebrated.
By the end of the month, two major trials began. The first was Choi’s trial; the second was Park’s impeachment trial. Claiming the charges against her to be a “house of cards,” Park has yet to show up to any of the proceedings.
By the end of December, prosecutors shifted focus towards the government’s relationship with South Korea’s chaebols. This started with prosecutors charging a government official with illegally swaying a Samsung merger vote.
To put it mildly, South Korea is in political turmoil. By now, executives in both the government and in business have been questioned and arrested. In mid-January, prosecutors attempted to arrest the head of Samsung, which has also been reeling over issues regarding the Galaxy 7 phones. Unsurprisingly, given how leniently business executives are treated, the arrest warrant was rejected. In contrast, Park’s fortunes have soured even more, with some protestors creating a satirical nude portrait of her and Choi.
By now, the main issue revolves around what to do next. It is almost certain that Park will be kicked out of office, and there is a good chance that she will be arrested soon after. She will be the first
The right-wing party that she leads, the Saenuri Party, is in deep trouble for the upcoming 2017 elections. As of right now, the Saenuri Party does not have a majority in parliament, and the scandal surrounding Park has almost guaranteed that the party will have neither parliament nor the presidency. Right now, it seems likely that the center-left Moon Jae-in and the centrist Ahn Cheol-soo. However, there is a chance for the conservative former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to run for the presidency, although the current scandal has damaged the chances for any center-right or right-wing candidate to win the presidency.
Finally, there is the relationship between the government and business, which has always been a sore spot in South Korean society. Although Park’s impeachment and the string of arrests are long overdue, it seems unlikely that the corruption plaguing the nation will change due to this. The failure for the head of Samsung to be arrested is probable evidence of this.
Between the cult leaders, corruption, and Viagra, the scandal rocking South Korea has shone a spotlight on the massive corruption plaguing the nation since its inception. Although the most egregious suspects have been dealt with, it remains to be seen as to whether any systemic changes will be made.