A Million Voices: President Park Reeling from Controversy
The political landscape at home and abroad seems dismal at best. The U.S. has been shaken by a divisive political election between Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump. Anxious Americans are uncertain about their country’s future as spontaneous protests have hit the streets in major cities across the nation. However, the situation in South Korea doesn’t seem to fare much better. As Trump will enter into the presidential office in January of next year, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye may be on her way out of the Blue House ahead of schedule.
Park is currently facing a political crisis unlike any president that has come before her. Seoul, the South Korean capital, has been inundated by massive protests and demonstrations calling for President Park to step down. Each week, enormous crowds have gathered in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square in mostly peaceful protest. On Nov. 12, over one million people made their voices heard ? the largest public movement since 1987. From public transportation workers and government employees to teachers, students in uniform, and healthcare workers, the protests embody the frustration and disappointment from all corners of Korean society.
Park Geun-hye began her presidency in February 2013. She is currently serving as South Korea’s 11th president, but she’s most widely known for being the first woman to hold that office. In a historically and traditionally patriarchal society, this was quite a feat by the president. Her late father, Park Chung-hee, served as president from 1963 to 1979. His administration is widely credited with the rapid development of South Korea, but it’s also mired in controversy over Park Chung-hee’s enforcement tactics against people who opposed him. Like her father, Park Geun-hye has always faced difficulty and opposition with her policies. But this most recent scandal has left Park with almost no government official or public support. Her approval ratings just eight months ago hovered at 46 percent. Now, Park faces the lowest rating in history for a South Korean president at a mere 5 percent.
What has driven this movement, demanding Park’s resignation? President Park’s longtime friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil allegedly used her relationship to the president to interfere with government activity. Holding no elected position of her own, Choi has been charged with extorting W79.5 billion, using company donated funds into her own private foundations. Choi also used her position of power to meddle with classified government documents and receive preferential treatment for her family. The president’s association with these illicit activities have permanently damaged her reputation, and any chance to recover the Park administration now seems hopeless.
Most people have never even met the president in person, so what pushes a public outcry of this magnitude? The story of this current political crisis is much larger than Park Geun-hye herself. Whether in the U.S. or South Korea, people are upset because they are already skeptical of the government and their practices. Elected officials are supposed to work on behalf of the people that elected them ? to serve their position with integrity, honor, and dignity. Yet, the public has seen too many instances of powerful people soliciting bribes, influence-peddling, and abusing their privileges for their own benefit.
President Park Geun-hye has continued to make apologies, but people see them as insincere. Although only one year remains on Park’s term, it’s only a matter of time before she faces impeachment or is forced to resign. The president of South Korea is the face and representative of the Korean people to the world. Perhaps this is the reason people have come to make their voice heard; they expect their president to act with the character and virtue that position so justly deserves.
John Imm Editorial Team Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. How many people gathered in Gwanghwamun on Nov. 12?
2. What are Park's the highest and lowest approval ratings?
3. Who is Choi Soon-sil and what did she do?
1. What did you feel looking at the picture of people with candles in Gwanghwamun?
2. Have you ever gone to Gwanghwamun to protest Park? If you have, how was it?
3. What do you think Park has to do for herself and people?