Downfall of Dynasty: President Park's Final Hours
“It’s all fake news!” a proud pro-Park protester screams into a microphone on a stage built on an intersection only four city blocks from Cheong Wa Dae, the residence of the South Korean president. Tens of thousands of supporters wave Korean and American flags in support of President Park. “The President should declare martial law and clear out anti-administration protests!” the proud supporter bellowed on stage, being met with wild cheers and thunderous applause. Banners are everywhere with pro-Park slogans, saying “Disband Congress!!!” claiming allegations against President Park are false, lies made up by political rivals in an attempt to take the presidency from her. The anthem of the Korean Army fills the air as citizens cheer in unison.
Just beyond the pro-president demonstrators, battalions of police officers in full riot gear, bearing shields and night sticks, form a thick perimeter encircling the crowd. A three minute walk past the veritable army of police and the chorus of angry shouts turn into a melody of voices harmonizing with the sounds of piano playing, the angry banners and flags turn into a sea of lit candles moving in unison to the music. Statues of President Park behind bars decorate the area around the memorial of Yi Sun-sin, the national hero who embodies the strength of the Korean people. The long street spanning five city blocks up to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul is jam-packed of protesters. So packed, it took five minutes to walk ten feet in any one direction.
A deafening boom fills the crowd as an announcement over the loud speakers proudly declares that over five hundred thousand citizens have been counted in attendance. The announcement is met with cheers followed by a resumption of music and protest leaders listing their demands. “Lock her up!!” one leader chanted as participants held lit candles proudly in the air. When asked why the pro Park demonstrators were surrounded with far more police than their far larger anti-administration counterparts, Seoul resident and translator Kim Seung Chan stated “It’s because they are all crazy. They are the older generation, usually fifty to sixty years old. They believe all allegations against the President are made up. They are minor opinion.” The charges brought against now former President Park are grave to say the least. The former president has been arrested and is awaiting trial on charges of bribery and abuse of power, as well as allegations of allowing religious-cult leader Choi Soon-sil access to classified information. Choi Soon-sil, who claims the ability to channel dead spirits, has had her hand deep in the pockets of the Park administration and has been charged with selling political favors from the President for cash. The most notable scandal being that of Vice President of Samsung Lee Jae-Yong. He is accused of paying thirty-six million dollars in bribes to Soon-sil for help in getting former President Park to pressure the Korean National Pension Service to vote in favor of a controversial and unpopular merger of the Samsung Group. This merger would secure Lee’s spot as top dog at Samsung.
Park supporters claim there has been no wrongdoing, that allegations are either entirely made up or greatly exaggerated. Choi Soon-sil has been a friend of the Park family since the reign and assassination of former South Korean Dictator and former president Park’s father Park Chung-hee, whom the older generation still idolizes to this day. While being a dictator, President Chung-hee is credited with turning South Korea into an economic powerhouse, raising the standard of living for South Koreans to well above their Northern counterparts, as well as normalizing relations with Japan and being fiercely anti-Communist. Disillusioned with the grandeur of former President Park’s father’s accomplishments, the majority of the people in South Korea wish to see her stand trial. Noting the serenity and unison of the masses at the anti-Park rally, Kim Seung Chan notes “There are some side stories. Everyone is assured of their opinions.” These “side stories” include a long list of further allegations, from protestors showing depictions of Park using drugs, to changing the grades of students she knows at various universities around South Korea. There is a clear divide in the sentiments and attitudes of those who believe their news sources to be trustworthy or to be a deceitful propaganda machine. Those who feel the media has become biased and simply smears Park responded with outrage and high intensity protests warranting riot police. Those who believe in the corruption of their government, selling itself out to private corporate interest and its abuse of power, have unified and formed consensus that Park must stand trial and should be jailed. This belief drove protesters into the streets in millions, pressuring their representatives to impeach Park, and the Constitutional Courts to uphold the impeachment.
The downfall of Park leaves the country in disarray, showcasing a nation amidst great turmoil and protest. It has exposed the mistrust of the people of their media and government. This has left a majority of citizens clamoring for the former President’s imprisonment and the remainder denouncing all allegations and media sources. Park’s downfall has left a nation divided, creating severe tensions between her people on both sides of the aisle, leaving the world wondering how South Korea plans to pull its government and people back together. With the Central District Courts authorizing warrants and allowing police to place the former president behind bars, emotions are flaring as the various political parties prepare for an emergency election in May to find her replacement. Whether Park will ultimately serve a jail sentence remains to be seen, but for the moment the former leader will have to make due in her cell while she awaits trial. The events in South Korea have truly been an incredible example of a bottom-up influence of the people on their government. In the case of South Korea’s democracy, it has proven that no one is above the law, no political dynasty is too big to fall, and no president too powerful to arrest.