South Korean protests the first to bring down a president in a long history of civic activism

Eunjung Lim @CatchNews | First published: 1 December 2016, 19:19 IST
Protests against South Korean President Park Geun-
AFP Photo/Poll/Jeon Heon-Kyun

The president of South Korea has announced she is willing to resign before the end of her five-year term. Park Geun-Hye made the announcement during her third televised apology to the nation, over a corruption scandal that has gripped the country for weeks.

She has left it to the National Assembly to decide the timing of her departure for a smooth transition of power.

The move comes only two days after her refusal to step down and has been interpreted as an attempt to head off an impending impeachment in the National Assembly, and as a concession to a series of large protests by South Koreans.

Despite the cold and snow, South Koreans held what is thought to be the largest protest yet on Saturday November 26, calling on President Park to resign. She has been struggling with an ongoing influence-peddling scandal involving a long-term friend and confidant, Choi Soon-sil, which may still lead to her prosecution.

Growing protests

The protest was the latest in a series of marches that have been held every Saturday since the scandal broke in October. Crowds have included teenagers in school uniforms, young parents carrying strollers, senior citizens, and even opposition party leaders, all holding candles and signs calling for the president to stand down.

Although organisers and police have frequently been at odds about the number of people attending, media reports have noted that the gatherings are the largest political protests since the 1986-1987 rallies that brought about democratisation after years of authoritarianism.

Alleged corruption scandals involving the cronies and families of presidents are not unusual in South Korean politics, but they have not usually led to such a strong public response. Former presidents have all been plunged into these kinds of scandals in the latter years of their tenure.

The first president after democratisation in 1987, Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993), was charged with corruption after he left office and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The second son of president Kim Young-Sam (1993-1998) was involved in a bribery scandal in May 1997, while Kim was still in the office. A similar scandal plagued Nobel prize-winning president Kim Dae-Jung (1998-2003) five years later.

Another bribery scandal involved Roh Mu-hyun (2003-2008), who was a human rights lawyer before becoming president. Roh killed himself in 2009.

Park's predecessor, Lee Myung-Bak (2008-2013), also became embroiled in a bribery scandal involving his elder brother.

Why so angry?

Despite political scandals and controversies affecting every president since South Korea's democratisation, every president has finished their five-year term since the nation's current constitution came into effect in 1987.