By Hanna Kim
South Korea has known more corruption in its executive branch than should seem normal. Former presidents have been known to take advantage of their position to exploit certain luxuries they were given by their positions.
The story of Park Geun-Hye, the now-impeached president of South Korea, is no different. In 1974, her mother was killed in an attempt to murder the then dictator and her husband Park Chung-Hee.
When Ms. Park, who was 22 at the time, was struggling to deal with the death of her mother, Choi Tae-Min, the leader of a cult called The Church of Eternal Life, assured her that he had talked to his mother’s ghost. As a result, Ms. Park started relying on Choi to try to connect with her deceased mother. When she was 27, her father was killed because the people believed Choi was exploiting Ms. Park to amass power and influence in the government.
By all means, Park Geun-Hye was set to be an experienced and reliable president. She served in the conservative Saenuri Party and the National Assembly prior to her presidency, authorizing her the many diplomatic talents a president would require.
What the people of South Korea had not expected, however, was how close of a relationship she maintained with the daughter of Choi Tae-Min, named Choi Soon-Sil.
When Mr. Choi passed away in 1994, building a reputation as the “Korean Rasputin” until his death, his daughter continued his work as the head of the cult, called the Church of Eternal Life.
Together, according to the New York Times, Choi Soon-Sil and Park Geun Hye extorted 69 million dollars from various businesses in exchange for certain political favors.
Although this particular reveal came as a surprise for the general public, many South Korean citizens were already slowly receding from their support for Park. What most motivated these sentiments was the Sewol Ferry Incident. The Sewol Ferry was carrying at least 476 passengers, 200 of them high school students on a class trip to Jeju Island when it capsized. Out of the 476 passengers, only 176 survived. What started as the protests of grief-ridden parents soon turned into a movement, and many accused the president of not taking immediate action.
This sentiment was exacerbated when the people found out that President Park had been missing for the first seven hours after the Sewol Ferry incident. Rumors range from spending 90 minutes getting her hair done, to having an affair, to attending a ritual for Choi Tae-Min, the original Rasputin of this scandal.
Anger at her inactivity, her denial of journalists who attempted to uncover this scandal, and all-around shock at such corruption led the people of South Korea to take matters into their own hands.
As many as one million people showed up to the protests, holding up candlelights and calling for Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment. What is particularly admirable about these candlelight vigils, however, is the absence of violence despite the obvious indignation of the public. These peaceful protests lasted over a month, growing stronger in number and in determination over time.
Their efforts paid off when South Korean lawmakers agreed to put President Park on trial and bring her to justice. On December 9, 2016, the National Assembly voted her out of office, and President Park Geun-Hye was impeached. The next president will be elected into office on December 20, 2017. As of right now, the National Assembly is settling all government affairs in place of the executive order.