PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Wilson
By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
Saturday, as countless Americans continued to hold protests across the country calling for the impeachment of president Donald Trump, more than 3-dozen South Korean Oregonians marched against the impeachment of S. Korea’s conservative President Park Geun-hye or 박근혜. Clutching small S. Korean and U.S. flags, they silently weaved their way along the shoulder of Tigard, Oregon’s highway 99-W.
Claims of a Coup
Encountering the modest march of mostly senior citizens after taking a wrong turn in search of Thai food, my partner Jon Wilson and I stopped to ask what they were up to. Several participants were happy to speak with us.
“This Korean Parliament, they’ve become all ‘Red’.”
While most just waved flags, a few demonstrators also carried signs written in their native S. Korean. Hannah, barely bigger than the only sign written in English, a sign that simply read “Dismiss Impeachment”, credited a housewife named Judy Li (sp) for contacting and organizing them over Facebook. Hannah says the S. Korean Parliament was “trying to destroy her (Park)” and “overthrow the country.”We were told that several similar small marches were taking place simultaneously across the country, in tandem with much larger ones in their homeland. Park was first was elected in 2012 and had the highest win margin than any S. Korean President.
A very impassioned older gentleman walked up to us and said, “This Korean Parliament, they’ve become all ‘Red’.” Several others said they feared a coup was taking place and that the country was being overtaken by “Communists” and “Socialism.”
Impeaching a President
Last December, S. Korea’s 300-member National Assembly voted by a margin of 234-56 to impeach President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal that spurred massive protests for her ouster. Prosecutors say Park allowed her adviser and confidante, Choi Soon-sil, who held no official government position or clearance, to access confidential files. Choi is accused of using her ties to Park to extort millions of dollars from others and is currently detained and charged with abuse of power, fraud, and coercion.
Yesterday, S. Korea’s Constitutional Court held it’s concluding hearing to determine whether to end or restore Park’s presidential powers. In order to boot Park, the formerly 9-member, now 8-member Court must return a two-thirds vote in favor, if not, Park will be immediately returned to power. A ruling is expected sometime before March 13. One of the 9 judges retired in January. Another is expected to retire in March. Whether this will affect the voting is unknown. If Parks is out, S. Korea will have 60-days to elect a new President.
Since Park’s December suspension, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, has been the acting President. He too now comes under fire for not granting an extension to prosecutors in the Park investigation. Calls for his impeachment are mirroring earlier calls for Parks’s leaving S. Korea’s political future in limbo. The only President to have been impeached in S. Korea was the 2004 impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun for violating a law requiring the president to remain neutral in the election.
Here is a good explainer of S. Korea’s impeachment process.
Broader Implications and Repercussions
Samsung heir JY Lee, son of the Samsung group head Lee Kun-hee, was arrested in bribery probe related to the Park affair. He and four other executives will also be indicted. Samsung is South Korea’s largest business group. Lee, who is vice chairman of Samsung Electronics is accused of paying nearly $40 million in bribes to Park’s Choi to win support for a merger in 2015. Samsung is not the only company allegedly involved.
The scandal has touched the highest levels of politics and business in South Korea and the broader implications are staggering for the country.
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