By Gabrielle Goldworm
November 19 marked the fourth week of the protest in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul, where hundreds of thousands of South Korean citizens took to the streets calling for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation, according to a CNN report. These protests come in the wake of Park’s controversial admission that she had shared classified documents and presidential speeches with her non-government employed confidante, Choi Soon-sil. This, coupled with her firing of South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and the resignation of numerous aides has created what is said to be one of the largest protests in the country’s recent history, and CNN reports that it is expected to continue until President Park’s resignation.
Park’s term as president is not set to end until early 2018, and while president she is immune from prosecution from anything but insurrection or treason. She can, however, be impeached by the National Assembly, and it would not be the first time South Korea has ousted a leader before the end of their term, with the exile of President Syngman Rhee in 1960, and the assassination of Park’s own father in 1979, as reported by the . Growing frustration with Park’s presidency was brought to a head by what the Korean Times calls “Choi Soon-sil Gate”, and the President’s confidante is likened by news sources such as CNN as a “Rasputin-like figure” with undue influence over President Park. Choi, who is the daughter of Eternal Life Church leader Choi Tae-min, succeeded her father as the leader of the church following his death in 1994, and maintained a close relationship with Park as a close friend and spiritual mentor. Park’s relationship with the Choi family has long been controversial. WikiLeaks released a confidential US diplomatic cable in 2007, documenting rumors of the Choi’s influence on Park during her youth. Even Park’s own family has expressed concern to the Korean Times over her relationship with Choi, and her younger brother and sister filed a petition in 1990 to President Roh Tae-woo about their concerns that Choi was manipulating Park. Choi has been accused of attempting to the relationship to extort large sums of money to fund a non-profit she controls, and is currently under investigation on charges of fraud and abuse of power, according to BBC. CNN reports that Choi was placed in “emergency custody” and subsequently released the following week, though the charges against her are still under investigation. Park herself has reportedly apologized several times for “putting too much faith in personal relationships” reports the BBC. Her apologies, however, have not quelled the discontent of the South Korean people, who continue to protest and reportedly feel betrayed by their government.
Despite attempts to stem the scandal, CNN reports that Park’s approval rating has plummeted by 21.1%, and has maintained this low level as the protests rage on. Should she be forced to resign before the last 15 months of her presidency are up, elections for a new president will begin within 60 days of her departure from office.