Change required to end South Korean presidential scandals
With his predecessor Park Geun-hye the latest to be jailed, Moon Jae-in faces a challenging political system where constitutional reform may prove difficult
There is surely nothing more shameful for a nation and its political system than for its leader to be jailed for serious crimes. The 24-year term handed down last week to South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye for corruption therefore closes a sorry chapter in the country’s history. The ruling was broadcast live on television, an unprecedented move explained by authorities as being in the national interest. It was a necessary decision given widespread sentiment for a shake-up of politics and big business.
The tough sentence for Park, the country’s first woman leader and president to be impeached, was understandable given the scale and scope of her wrongdoing. She was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most relating to bribery and coercion.
They revealed the flaws of the 1987 democratic constitution, which has now failed to prevent five of the past six democratically elected presidents from falling from grace.
She joins Lee Myung-bak, charged last month with corruption while in office, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s, and Roh Moo-hyun, who killed himself in 2009 while being investigated for graft.
At the heart of Park’s case was her giving childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, power and influence. The pair colluded to pressure conglomerates such as Samsung and Lotte to give huge donations to foundations run by Choi, who was earlier jailed for 20 years.
Park was also found guilty of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and give the woman and her daughter gifts. Furthermore, the former leader leaked confidential government documents to her friend. Also dragged into the scandal were civil servants, entertainers, top companies and their chiefs.
South Koreans have been enraged by the revelations; last May, they roundly elected Moon Jae-in, who had campaigned on a pledge to clean up politics and shake up the power, influence and governance of the conglomerates, known as chaebol, to the presidency.
His efforts are moving slowly and constitutional reform will be challenging given the nature of the political system. But change is demanded and only ensuring it comes about can another presidential scandal be avoided.