The Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil scandal seems unbelievable. South Korea, one of the modern powerhouses of the 21st century, has been reduced to near anarchy with the exposure of the president’s secret dealings with the daughter of a cult leader. It is the perfect drama cocktail with the right amount of politics, religion, and corruption mixed in, and it’s an excruciating one to swallow for the Korean populace.
But what is most worrying about this story is that it isn’t the first of its kind. You probably know the story of Rasputin and his absurd amount of influence over the Russian Tsar in the 19th century. Many news sources compare the current events with Rasputin’s as they share similar motifs, and there is a fear that Park Geun-hye’s troubles could lead to the same repercussions later in the future. Rasputin’s story ends with his death, the collapse of Tsarism, and a display of Russia’s fragility to the outside world in the middle of a global war; and for South Korea, Choi has been arrested, the government is in shambles and playing the blame game, and enormous cracks are showing at a time when North Korea is itching to press the big red button.
It all falls down to Park. Park had two flaws in common with Tsar Nicholas II: personal debt and a disconnect with the public. Back in the time of Nicholas, both flaws were undesirable but not as destructive as the Tsar was seen by the public as an unreachable individual; a disconnect was expected, and his personal debt with Rasputin was for his son and not himself. But when you see those same flaws in Park in the 21st century, it’s an abomination. Religion is much more separate from the state now than it was a century ago from politics and any interference from it, especially a cult, is severely criticized. Though Park may have had a troubled past and needed counseling, she needed to understand the wall that needed to be erected between her personal life and the government’s affairs. Furthermore, Park was criticized from the very beginning of her term for her lack of communication and transparency with the Korean public (especially prevalent during the Sewol ferry incident). This kind of disconnect in the media and network-heavy society of the 21st century leads to near-guaranteed social suicide and public distrust.
You can see it elsewhere in the world; the public wants to know who they’re placing on the big seat. Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau were relatively young politicians when they became president and prime minister respectively, but they both respected the power of connections with the public. Obama used social media extensively in his campaign to highlight himself and Trudeau countered conservative attack ads with a public display of his political knowledge and capabilities. Then there’s personal debt; a concept so abhorred by the public. Donald Trump, despite winning the presidency, is still hounded by his stories of bankruptcies and misogynistic “locker talk” from years ago which have contributed heavily to his negative perception by half of America and several parts of the world; people just don’t trust his demeanor. In our 21st century world, the public has much more power, and that fact is spreading across the world. South Korea is no exception. Park failed to fit the bill and as you can see now, it’s breaking the nation.
Park messed up big time and the damage will be devastating. Unlike Rasputin’s times, isolation is not a luxury that South Korea can afford. “The Asian Tiger” is now a global partner with its people spread across the world and it must keep pace with the rest of the world. South Korea needs a new leader soon, and hopefully one that can fit the frame of modernity.