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Scandals Leave South Korean Gov’t In Peril, And That’s Bad News For America

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Tens of thousands of South Korean citizens are demanding the South Korean president’s resignation in response to recent scandals.

President Park Geun-hye has been a strong ally of the U.S., fighting for the installation of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, standing up to both China and Russia, putting pressure on Pyongyang, and rejecting domestic calls for nuclear rearmament. Her administration’s support has been essential for the preservation of American power on the Korean peninsula, but the Park administration is in danger as scandals threaten to unseat the president.

Park’s approval rating has plummeted to an all-time low of 14 percent, NPR revealed.

The administration has been accused of kneeling to a shadowy puppet master named Choi Soon-sil, a woman who is unaffiliated with the government but has considerable influence over the president’s actions.

Choi, a close friend of the president, reportedly edited some of Park’s major speeches, gave orders to senior aides, managed the president’s itinerary for overseas trips, and even made decisions on the president’s wardrobe, reports the New York Times. For a sitting president to cede state power to a non-governmental entity is a serious issue, but the current situation is much more complicated.

The Federation of Korean Industries created the Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation last October. Choi was reportedly involved in the establishment of both non-profit organizations, which managed to secure tens of millions of dollars in funding within a matter of days.

Preliminary investigations led to accusations that Park had been manipulated by Choi and that the funds had been acquired by way of questionable methods. Last month, the Federation of Korean Industries proposed eliminating the two foundations and creating a new organization to replace them, but critics called this an attempt to destroy evidence. Reports then surfaced that Choi fled to Germany using money taken from the foundations through two shell companies, the South China Morning Post introduced.

The scandal goes beyond the misappropriation of funds and possible corruption. Rumors have been circulating that Choi had some sort of mysterious hold on the South Korean president.

Choi Soon-sil is the daughter of Choi Tae-min, the founder of the Church of Eternal Life, a cult of sorts. He became Park’s mentor after the death of Park’s mother. He told her that her mother had come to him in a dream and instructed him to guide Park. A 2007 report from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul made public by WikiLeaks said that Choi Tae-min “had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years.” It is said that his children amassed significant wealth and power as a result of their connections with Park.

Choi Tae-min has been referred to as “Korea’s Rasputin.”

Choi Tae-min’s daughter has reportedly taken up her father’s role as a cult leader and is said to be the mastermind behind the Eight Fairies. Some South Korean citizens and officials claim that Park is a member, that Choi Soon-sil has control of the president, and that they have seen Park trying to cast spells.

“This isn’t even a dictatorship,” Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the Minjoo Party, reportedly explained. “It’s a terrifying theocracy.”

Park has denied accusations of cult affiliations. She did, however, admit to giving Choi Soon-sil access to some of her speeches. She apologized to the nation Tuesday. Park also fired 10 of her senior aides, a move perceived as a possible attempt to cover up evidence of misdeeds.

Park’s apology is clearly not enough for the South Korean people, who are furious that the power they gave to the president was turned over to a friend, especially a potential cult leader who may have abused her relationship with Park for personal gain.

Investigators raided the Blue House, the president’s residence, as well as various government offices Saturday to search for additional information on the scandal, reports Bloomberg News. Park expressed dissatisfaction, but investigators agreed to continue under the provisions of the warrant. The search took place hours after news broke that Park had fired her senior aides, some of which are also under investigation. Oversight divisions are looking into officials who may have helped Choi Soon-sil secure funding for the organizations in her charge.

“Park has lost her authority as president and showed she doesn’t have the basic qualities to govern a country,” opposition party member Jae-myung Lee told the Associated Press. In a poll taken earlier this week, more than 40 percent of those surveyed said Park should resign or be impeached. Many South Koreans are also calling for Choi Soon-sil’s arrest.

The three major South Korean political parties will meet Monday to discuss the situation and how the country should proceed. It is unclear what they will decide.

“Park Geun-hye’s leadership is on the brink of collapse,” said Yoo Chang-sun, a left-leaning political analyst, told the Washington Post. Right-leaning analyst Shin Yool explained, “The president has lost her ability to function as leader.”

If Park steps down, reshuffles her cabinet, or restructures her administration in response to this political crisis, it could alter South Korea’s priorities in foreign affairs. Support for U.S. policies is not unanimous in South Korea’s politics. Without Park, the U.S.-South Korean alliance may experience a dramatic shift, one which could complicate American endeavors in the region.

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