On April 6, former President of Korea Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison. The sentence was handed down after she was convicted of abuse of power, bribery, coercion, and leakage of government secrets. It is effectively a life sentence for her, and one of the worst punishments handed out to any former leader in Korea.
The sentence comes just over a year since Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously upheld a decision by the National Assembly to impeach now former president Park Geun-hye from office.
Park’s presidency was littered with controversy, from her debacle of a response to the Sewol ferry disaster, to her revealing of classified government information to individuals with no security clearance, to her handing out of political favors for corporate investment. The deployment of THAAD was also one of the reasons why she fell out of favor so quickly.
By the time she was removed from office, her approval rating had sunk to single digits.
When she was first elected president in 2013, it was seen as a watershed moment as she was the first female president in the country’s history. However, she is also the daughter of the man who many consider to be the worst dictator in Korea’s history, Park Chung-hee.
During his time in power, Park did much to improve Korea’s infrastructure and build up a competitive economy. However, he was known to some as a leader who crushed any opposition to his rule.
Ms. Park lost both her parents at a young age. Her mother was assassinated in 1974 and her father was eliminated by one of his close personal aides in the secret service five years later. This was for allegedly trying to build up a nuclear program for South Korea.
Park, who had no children, centred part of her election platform on “being married to the country.”
When the Sewol sank back in April, 2014, Park was unresponsive as more than 300 high school students and crew members died. Rescue efforts were inadequate and she did little if anything in terms of compensating the families of the victims.
Her foreign policy stance towards North Korea was always hawkish. Tensions on the peninsula were high during her presidency. This is completely different to current president Moon Jae-in, who has actively sought ways to bring the two Koreas together since the beginning of his term.
What she will be remembered for most for, however, is the fact that she allowed a close confidant, Choi Soon-sil to have access to classified government information. Once this fact became public knowledge, there was no way it was going to go unpunished.
While many are dismayed by the sentence passed down to Park, it was a natural consequence of what the majority of people in Korea would call a betrayal of the country and national interests.
The decision also could have implications for Korea in the eyes of the international community, but time will tell how much of an impact this will have on Korea in the region and around the world.
Moon Jae-in has done a good job thus far in restoring Korea’s image following the Park scandal which gave the country a lot of bad press in the eyes of those paying attention worldwide.
The presidency has been suspect for a long time now. With constitutional reform potentially on the horizon, and with presidential powers looking to be scaled back, the hope is that another shameful chapter in Korea’s recent history is not repeated in the future.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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