South Korean President Park Guen-Hye’s Popularity At Record Low As Impeachment Vote Is Declared

The fate of South Korea’s first female President Park Guen-Hye will be decided tomorrow when an impeachment vote is brought to the National Assembly. The impeachment bill is to be forwarded by three opposition parties and it is expected that more than two thirds of leaders in the assembly will support it.

President Park was elected on the basis of a strong anti-corruption campaign, and promised to bring increased equality for people in South Korea. However in a similar vein to Clinton’s fraught race to presidency, Park has become embroiled in political scandal that is set to end her presidential career a year early.

President Park’s popularity ratings have dropped to a record low of 4% after news of her involvement in an influence-peddling scandal spread nation wide over the last few weeks. President Park is accused of leaking state policy secrets to friend and confidant Choi Soon-sil, who has been charged with criminal offences of fraud, bribery and abuse of power.

According to the opposition parties, Ms Choi acted as a “shadow president,” influencing President Park’s policy decisions over the economy and foreign affairs, as well as being given access to speeches and state documents. Ms Choi was additionally found to have received over $100 million from conglomerates Samsung, Hyundai Motors and LG in exchange for her policy influence.

Ms Choi is not elected, devoid of an official government position, security clearance and has no academic background in policy studies, however was allowed a huge amount of influence over the President’s decision making. Ms Choi has been described as a “Sharman fortune-teller” or “Rasputin-like-figure” by the political opposition due to her links with her father’s Christian cult Church of Eternal Life.

Despite President Park giving her third formal apology, in the latest protests over 500,000 people filled the central square in front of City Hall and the Presidential Blue House. These are the biggest protests in South Korea since the 1980s, with people from all walks of life unified with a common purpose to remove the disgraced President from office.

Whether or not the impeachment bill is passed, South Koreans will remember 2016 as a year of strong civil political participation. The recent protests have been comparatively peaceful and inclusive to protest rallies of the past, fraught with police violence. The past weekend protests have resembled large public events with a mix of young and old people marching in an orderly fashion, wielding electric candles and placards to communicate directly with their leaders.

Kim Jae-hwa, a 43 year old mother from Seoul brought her two daughters to the rally and told ABC reporters why she participated in the recent round of protests. “I felt it was important for their education to see what democracy is,” she said.

With mounting opposition, the President herself has accepted impeachment as her only option, albeit requesting more time till April 2017 to allow for a smooth transition for her replacement. However if successful, tomorrow’s impeachment vote may speed this process up.

Pro-impeachment politicians believe they have 200 out of 300 votes needed in the national assembly to suspend Park tomorrow, however this rests on securing 28 votes from President Park’s own Saenuri party, which is yet uncertain. If successful the vote will suspend Park, with her duties temporarily transferred to the Prime Minister, whilst the judiciary consider the validity of her impeachment. This process could take many months, followed by a new presidential election, before the President is officially out of office. Meanwhile the search for her replacement begins.

Rebecca Piesse