The Impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye

May 10, 2018

Mass protest against President Park , October 2016. CREDIT: Teddy Cross. (CC)

Abstract

This report explores the timeline and details of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment, and the aftermath that followed. Park Geun-hye's history begins with her father's military takeover of the South Korean government in 1961,1 the assassination of her mother and father,2 her handling and alleged mismanagement of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, and her ties to the Choi family.

Introduction

The second assassination attempt of former President Park Chung-hee proved successful where the first one, which inadvertently killed his wife (President Park Geun-hye's mother), did not. Park Chung-hee was killed by his close friend and head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, Kim Jae-kyu.3 He stated during his testimony before his execution, that one of his reasons for killing Park Chung-hee was his lack of action in stopping Choi's corruption and taming the influence of Choi Tae-min over Park Chung-hee's daughter, future president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye.4 Telling the story of how Park Geun-hye was impeached involves unpacking the relationships of a complex family history, a religious mentor, and a best friend—turned unofficial aide—that all worked to undo Korea's first female president.

Six weeks is all the time it took for the National Assembly to vote to impeach President Park Geun-hye and only a few months more before she was ousted from the Blue House and charged with bribery, abuse of presidential power, and leaking state secrets. On October 24, 2016 news broke of an inappropriate relationship between President Park and her unofficial aide, Choi Soon-sil. President Park apologized on October 25 but was seen as aloof and insincere, sparking the first candle light protest of more than 20,000 Koreans outside the Blue House.5 By December 3 the public outcry had culminated into a deafening roar of over 1 million protestors that the South Korean National Assembly could no longer ignore, and a bill was introduced to impeach her. In one week's time, the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor (234 yeas, 56 nays), and less than three months later the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment in a unanimous 8-0 decision.6 The lightning speed with which the Korean government responded to the public's demands is a seeming triumph of liberal democracy and the exercise of the legitimate power of the people to influence their elected government.

President Park's rapid removal from office is better understood within the context of her family history and personal alliances. This project overviews the complex history of the Park family, their connections to alleged cult leaders, and how these played a significant role in her impeachment. Further, the Sewol Ferry Disaster that took place on April 16, 2014 is outlined and discussed within the context of the public's dwindling trust in President Park's administration.

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NOTES
1 Jung-Kim, J. (2002). Park Chung Hee. 4, 464-465
2 Daughter of Park Chung Hee Enters Presidential Politics. (2002). 5, 284
3 Podoler, G. (2016). "Who Was Park Chung-hee?" The Memorial Landscape and National Identity Politics in South Korea. East Asia, 33(4), 271-288.
4 "A Presidential Friendship Has Many South Koreans Crying Foul." (2018, January 20). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/28/world/asia/south-korea-choi-soon-sil.html
5 Sook Jong Lee. (2017, March 24). "A Democratic Breakthrough in South Korea?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Articles, pp. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Articles, Mar 24, 2017.
6 Panda, Ankit. 'South Korean Constitutional Court Unanimously Upholds Park Geun-Hye Impeachment." The Diplomat, March 10 2017, thediplomat.com/2017/03/south-korean-constitutional-court-unanimously-upholds-park-geun-hye-impeachment/
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