Choigate: Ominous signs for first woman Prez of S Korea

Makhan Saikia
The scandal is releasing warning signals for South Korea. Reports say that there may be a “Trump effect” on South Korean politics as commoners are crying foul against the political establishment. Therefore, by clinging on to power for more time i.e. awaiting the judgment of the Constitutional Court over her impeachment, Park will lose more than what she is thinking now
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has faced the biggest-ever public protest in the country against her alleged involvement in the Choi Soon-sil scandal. The crisis, now popularly known as “Choigate” is all about the President’s relationship with Choi, a close family friend of 40 years now. And last week, the South Koreans witnessed the impeachment of the first sitting President of the country by their Parliament. She could be the first democratically elected leader to be forced out of the prestigious President’s office in the history of the nation. Surprisingly, the Bill to impeach the President was passed by 234 votes to 56, with nine invalid votes and abstentions. For an impeachment move, the Bill requires only the approval of 200 members of the 300-member Parliament. But the staggering support came from the members for removing her from power was astounding. This rightly underlines the fact that her own political party – Saenuri Party – and most of its members were fully in favour of her impeachment. Even, many of the local and global experts on South Korean politics opine that her suspected involvement in the scandal inflicted an irreparable damage both to the image of Park and to her Saenuri Party.
Now, what happens next? Currently, as per the impeachment move, Park’s all executive powers have been suspended and transferred to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. Though the people wanted her to vacate the “Blue House” – the palace of the President, she could stay there till the nine-member Constitutional Court Bench decides her fate. Many say that the President will get more time to find a way out from the crisis as the nine judges in the Constitutional Court get up to 180 days to pronounce their verdict on the very validity of the impeachment vote. On hindsight, fears have gripped Seoul that the judges may be manipulated to change their minds by the power brokers as all of them were once appointed by the President and her conservative predecessor only. Sensing the writing on the wall around the country, even Park should not allow overturning the impeachment vote by the Parliament. It would be a grave mistake and that may lead to a civil rebellion in the country. Therefore, she should not be under wrong impression that all the judges or may be majority of them could save her presidency by keeping aside the public pressure and the vote of the Parliament as invalid. In fact, the Constitutional Court will determine whether the Parliament followed due process and whether there were sufficient grounds for such an immediate impeachment of the President. It is an arduous process, in any country, and in South Korea, this will involve arguments from both the sides, which will be open to public at large. With all possibilities, if the court ratifies what the Parliament did on December 9, she will resign formally. This will be followed by the election of a new President within two months from the date of her resignation.
Choi has operated as Park’s adviser and, according to some sources, ‘spiritual guru’. These revelations about her shadowy confidante would have not invited the opprobrium mounted on both of them today had it not been for Choi’s direct influence over the country’s core policy and decision-making in Defence, economic and foreign affairs. And, most importantly, Choi was alleged to have used her closeness to Park to pocket a huge sum of $70 million. She befriended Park after her father, Park Chung-hee (who was President of South Korea), was assassinated in 1979. Amid massive protests against her involvement with Choi, Park readily admitted that she was a great source of comfort during her difficult times in her life. But that is fine and no one is questioning her relationship with Choi, except the wrongdoing that followed from that friendship. Simultaneously, the influence that came from Choi’s father, Choi Tae-min, a self-styled Christian pastor, over the President is also puzzling the whole nation. The late Tae-min, established a religious cult known as the “Church of Eternal Life” and now led by his daughter, believed to have longstanding influence in the life of Park.
The corruption scandals involving family members and close relatives of President is nothing new in South Korea. But today many South Koreans are struggling hard to find out how Park has benefitted from involving Choi, who literally has driven to hard core state affairs, policy making, changing her wardrobe for public meetings or visits and finally, from checking advance copies of the President’s speeches. Ironically, Choi did never have security clearances for doing all these high-profile and precisely, the top secret services, which are assigned to a few selected Government officials of the nation. Beyond these, it has come to light that she has used the presidential connections to funnel funds into her two non-profit foundations from the South Korean multi-national corporations like Samsung and Hyundai. And she is alleged to have employed the President’s office for securing her daughter a seat in one of the most prestigious university of the country, where the ordinary students face intense competition for entry.
Therefore, the people are not going to scale down their pressure on Park so easily. Some Opposition MPs say that it is indicating a dangerous signal for the entire nation as their dear President and the country is ruled by a “terrifying theocracy”, which has never happened in history of the nation. That is why, even after pleading for apology twice by the President, more than 70 per cent of the people wanted her to give up the office. Now, they will not simply be happy with the impeachment vote by the Parliament, unless the final verdict comes from the court.
For the first time, a South Korean President’s public rating has come down to as low as five per cent. It’s pathetic and sad. The South Koreans have responded to the crisis very brutally and they all wanted her to go. But who are the likely successors of Park? At the moment, Moon Jae-in, a veteran MP from the Opposition Democratic Party, is at the top of the opinion poll chart. He has come to light for maintaining an uncompromising attitude towards Park’s activities. He also warned that trying to overturn the impeachment vote of the Parliament by the judiciary will mean a betrayal of the ordinary citizens of the country. He was the one from his party who indeed contested against Park for the office of the President in 2012 election. Another frontrunner for the post is the-soon-to-be-retired-as-the-Secretary General-of-the-UN, Ban Ki-Moon, who has shown interest in coming back to domestic politics, when he leaves the high-profile office by the end of this year. But he has refused to comment on the current political crisis in the country, involving Park. Whatsoever it may be, the sordid scandal has literally brought shame to the entire country. Whoever takes over from Park needs to bring back order to the mess created by her. Most importantly, trust of the people should be established over the office of the President as many had thought that Park would work tireless for the development of the nation.
After all, this influence-peddling scandal is releasing ominous signals for South Korea. Reports say that there may be a “Trump effect” on South Korean politics as commoners are crying foul against the political establishment, mostly fuelled by the country’s cosy ties with the wealthy, powerful and nasty family-owned chaebol business empires. It may lead to the fall of ranking of Asia’s fourth largest economy in the days to come. Financial experts say that there could be adverse impact of the political crisis over the economy. Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea is slated to have emergency board meetings for handling any untoward outcome across the country. It is for sure that people’s patience is wearing dangerously thin. They need change. From all perspectives, the impeachment vote has been regarded as the victory of the people. Park must understand this, before it is too late.
At the moment, no one can fathom what is in store for Park. It is likely that she will go sooner or later. Also, she is not expected to get a chance to complete her remaining one and a half year of the term in the office. Historical records say that it is better for a public leader to lay off his or her power once scandals involving public office and money come out.
This helps in saving the grace of not only the person involved, but also the very office that is involved. Therefore, by clinging on to power for more time i.e. awaiting the judgment of the Constitutional Court, Park will lose more than what she is thinking now. The ratification of the impeachment move by the court will open the door for the final exit of the President, but it would be an ignominious end for her. But, go Park, go. And, park somewhere else, not certainly in the “Blue House”!

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