The Korean people had witnessed how Prosecutor Young-ryeol Lee appeared on television to pinpoint the nation’s incumbent president as an accomplice in an unprecedentedly controversial corruption scandal involving Soon-sil Choi. President Park’s status since then is “criminal suspect”.
Around the corner lie pending investigation results, but President Park’s political standings are already hitting a new record-low every day of the week. Approval ratings are plummeting across the country, even in her “homeground” regions; another public demonstration, possibly involving another million participants, is scheduled to take place on November 26 and, according to the organizers, for all the Saturdays to come until the president resigns; 32 Saenuri Party members have agreed, in an urgent intra-party meeting, to proceed with impeachment measures, thereby making it theoretically possible for the majority of the members of the National Assembly to collectively yay the initiation of an impeachment sequence; The Chosun Ilbo, which used to be known as one of the most conservative, pro-Park news media, has tilted against the current administration and is now at the forefront of disseminating pieces of news that exacerbate President Park and her aides’ situation; some of her former secretaries, such as Jong-beom Ahn, seemed to have ceased being “blindly loyal” to her and have instead contributed to investigations; most importantly, she has lost many people’s trust, as many of the things that were nothing more than “imagination and speculation”, such as a civilian having access to scripts of presidential speech before the speech is uttered in public, just weeks ago have now been confirmed to be true.
But what good would investigations be, if the suspect behaves as if she is above the law? The Blue House made its own announcement in response to the prosecution’s disclosure of the interim investigation results citing the president as a corruption scandal suspect. According to the Blue House Spokesperson Youn-kuk Jung, everything claimed by the prosecution is a mere product of “imagination and speculation”. The presidential office denied all allegations and refused to comply with the prosecutors, should they ask the president to answer to in-person questioning. After the announcement by the Blue House, netizens expressed their sheer frustration as such an outright denial of the work of prosecutors not only annihilates the very purpose of Korea’s prosecution service but also mocks equality, one of the three integral values inscribed in the monument standing in front of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, mistrust in the president is prevalent as she retracted her previous stance, which she made clear during the national address televised on November 4 at the Blue House. Her exact words, as translated by The Korea Times, were, “It’s all my fault and my mistake. [...] If necessary, I will let prosecutors investigate me.” The whim with which she could flip her stance as the head of state is also a subject of scrutiny for many demonstrators who took to the streets on November 19.
The previous million-people demonstrations have been about President Park allowing Choi to meddle in national political affairs. The succeeding ones are anticipated to be more vocal about the president’s exploitation of her constitutional protection, which is by far the only legitimate barrier preventing her immediate arrest, even though the crimes for which the prosecution cites her as a suspect are ironically the very act of ridiculing that same constitution that rendered her prosecution-immune.
It would be unfair not to mention Park’s supporters, numbering in thousands and gathering in Seoul every time a million candles are lit in protest against the president. However, given that even her home party members and hometown voters are turning their backs on her, political pressure on her to step down will most likely intensify.
Perhaps the most disturbing fact is how foreign media perceive Korean democracy. Deutsche Welle blatantly points out on an article dated November 1, “Corruption and malpractice have been endemic in South Korea with a number of former presidents ending their terms in disgrace.” As shameful as it might be for Koreans to have an unclean legal record of presidents, the humiliation could have been far more unbearable in the near future, if it were not for the public uproar channeled through what news media around the world called “civilized and peaceful protests”, where people took on the responsibility of making democracy right. “Power comes from the people.” may be just one side of the story. As poet Ezra Pound put it, “Democracy implies that the man must take the responsibility for choosing his rulers and representatives, and for the maintenance of his own ‘rights’ against the possible and probable encroachments of the government, which he has sanctioned to act for him in public matters.”