What is going on in South Korea?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. As South Korean opposition began the impeachment process of President Park Geun-hye and it is combined with massive protests how do you see the end of this, will she stay?

2. And BTW more broadly, what the current scandal says us about the state of South Korean politics, if anything?

Answers:

Charles ArmstrongProfessor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Department of History, Columbia University

1. President Park is the first South Korean president to be criminally prosecuted while still in office. Combined with the opposition moves for impeachment and the largest public protests since the democratization movements in the late 1980s, it seems increasingly unlikely that she can remain in office until the end of her term in early 2018. She may resign before she is impeached. In that case she would resemble the first South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, who resigned in the face of large protests in 1960.

2. The current crisis reflects widespread dissatisfaction with Park in particular, who is not perceived as a very successful president, and with the political class in general, seen as corrupt and out of touch with the Korean people. The Choi Soon-sil scandal seemed to confirm many people’s worst fears about the Park administration’s incompetence, lack of transparency, and aloofness.

Ji Young Choi, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

1. Opposition groups are currently discussing the procedures on impeaching President Park and as now the possibility is high that they will actually initiate impeachment of President Park. But to impeach her two thirds of members of the National Assembly (200 out of 300) should vote yes. This means that 29 members of the ruling party (Saenuri Party) as well as members of opposition parties should vote yes. Given some of members of the ruling party have been very critical toward President Park and they have also been pressured by massive public protests, there is a significant chance that impeachment will be passed in the National Assembly if it is initiated. But even though it is passed by the National Assembly, the final decision is made by the constitutional court. Because of massive public pressures, it is likely for it to make a decision for impeachment, but some of conservative judges will not support it and that’s what President Park hopes for.

As things stand, President Park is not willing to resign and impeachment is maybe the only way to eliminate her from power. But as I explained, the impeachment is a very complex process and needs to go through two major procedures and we cannot rule out the possibility that the constitutional court will not make a decision for the impeachment.

2. South Korea experienced rapid economic development and industrialization under the authoritarian rule particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. One of dark sides of this rapid development (or the state-led development) is the collusion between business (chaebol – big conglomerates in S. Korea) and politics. Since democratization in the 1990s, particularly after the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s, there have been significant reforms to solve this problem. But the recent scandal reveals that some fundamental structural problems have not been resolved clearly. For example, it has been a long-standing practice for top political leaders to ask big corporations to make financial donations to make or maintain various foundations for social and cultural purposes. But the problem is there is always the possibility of corruption or scandal especially when top political leaders’ family members or friends are involved. Also elite groups (politicians and business leaders) are well-connected with each other (they went to the same colleges or related through marriages or business partnerships, etc.). As well, cultural factors play a certain role. Unlike in western societies, the distinction between the private and the public is not clear in South Korea (and other East Asian societies). In Korean culture, personal relationships are very important for social success and Koreans have more emotional attachments to their families or friends than westerners.
Definitely, it also has to to with President Park’s troubled family history and personal character. But I cannot tell it all in this short email.

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