South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Friday (6 April), after being found guilty of bribery, abuse of power and leaking of state secrets. Reportedly, she colluded with her confidante and best friend, Choi Soon-sil, to force business conglomerates to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter. Park’s sentence arrived after a long trial that started in May 2017. Following this, the constitutional court made a final decision to permanently suspend Park’s power after her impeachment in March 2017.
Why is it significant?
The case of Park Geun-hye has easily become one of the most notorious political scandals in South Korea. It opened with a massive demonstration at Gwanghwamun Square to demand Park’s resignation (3 December 2016), continued with a series of further protests near the Blue House (end of 2016-2017), and ended with a grand finale of old conservative voters marching against Park’s imprisonment (6 April 2018).
Despite tremendously rocking the country, the removal of Park is part of a series of chaebo (family-run conglomerates) uprootings. Definitely, this entire case predicts sweeping domestic reforms to rein in the political influence of these family-run ruling empires. However, this will potentially push South Korea further into an area of instability, especially when the public is already furious at the state of the economy, and the influence wielded by its political and industrial elites.
As for Park herself, she can still appeal to a higher court, although the sentence is already considered lenient. The question now is what will come next for South Korea and its political scene. The country will need to elect a new president within 60 days. Until then, South Korea’s prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, will continue to be the nation’s acting president.