by Alonso Velasquez
Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in Seoul last Saturday, demanding President Park Geun-hye to resign. This comes after allegations that Park revealed classified secrets to a close friend not related to the government.
The crowd gathered in Gwanghwamun square, where it was estimated that anywhere from 45,000 to 200,000 citizens held signs saying “Park Geun-hye out” and “treason by a secret government.” Some stated that if Park doesn’t step down, the government should try to impeach her. The protest came a day after a teary Park apologized on national television for the scandal, stating that it was “all my fault.” In response to the outrage, she has removed prime minister and second-in-command Hwang Kyo-ahn and has reshuffled her cabinet, nominating three new senior officials. The nominees will have to be appointed by the national parliament. Many opposition politicians are also requesting that the parliament should name the next prime minister.
The friend in question is Choi Soon Sil, who was arrested by prosecutors earlier in the week with charges of fraud and abuse of power. Choi, daughter of a late pseudo-Christian leader and a longtime friend of Park, is believed to have received around $70 million from businesses pressured by the government to help fund her. It is alleged that Choi repeatedly meddled in government affairs such as making policy, appointing ministers and even picking the president’s clothing. The scandal began when Korean network JTBC uncovered that Choi had received secret documents via a tablet.
Due to her “shamanic” traditions, she is seen as Korea’s “Rasputin.”
Choi’s late father was a spiritual mentor to Park’s father, who was former President Park Chung-hee. After the elder Park was assassinated, the younger Park was alleged to have been greatly influenced by the younger Choi. In Park’s inauguration, she stood close to a tree with colorful silk purses, reportedly at the request of Choi to bring prosperity. However, Park denies participating in “occultic rituals” with Choi in Seoul’s presidential palace, nicknamed the “Blue House.”
Many Koreans are outraged over the scandal and feel like Park has been a puppet, with Choi really leading from the shadows.
Park currently sits at a record low five percent approval ratings, down from 30 percent before the scandal. Park has 15 months remaining in her term, with the next election scheduled for December 2017. If Park is to resign, law dictates that there must be an election within the following 60 days. While several politicians have asked Park to step down, opposition parties have resisted going full-force, fearing that it could negatively alter next year’s scheduled election. Park became her nation’s first female president after winning a close race in 2012. She has regularly been criticized as being a dictator’s daughter as her father ruled the country as a military strongmen from 1962 until 1979.
Two former presidential aides, An Chong Bum and Jeong Ho Seung, have also been arrested for allegations that they helped fund Choi.
There were also protests in smaller cities like Gwangju, where 3,000 citizens protested.