The gathering crisis in Seoul

Hundreds of thousands of angry citizens have been taking to the streets every weekend in South Korea, against the continuation in office of President Park Geun-hye. The crisis of confidence in Ms. Park’s leadership exploded after her aide Choi Soon-sil was arrested over allegations that Ms. Choi covertly exercised illegal authority over critical government decisions. She has also allegedly extorted $69 million from the giant industrial conglomerates, or chaebols, in the form of donations to two charitable foundations. Ms. Park has stood her ground and clung on to the presidency, even as she sacked at least eight of her aides in an unsuccessful attempt to regain public trust. Yet, pressure is mounting as the opposition parties are circling the wagons over impeaching her for breach of the Constitution. An impeachment motion would require two-thirds support in the 300-seat National Assembly. Opposition parties enjoy a combined majority there, and say they have secured the backing of more than 29 lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri party, the minimum number required to push this through. If they succeed, this would be the first time in 12 years that South Korea’s National Assembly has impeached a president.

History also matters in the broader context of the unravelling relationship between the South Korean government and the chaebols. What began as a storied macroeconomic strategy of “picking winners” from amongst competing industrial groups, a paradigm that produced the Samsungs and Hyundais of today, is under a cloud. On November 8, prosecutors raided the Samsung offices over allegations it had transferred $3.1 million to a company owned by Ms. Choi in Germany. The hard-fought democracy that South Koreans won in 1987, driven by “people power” protests similar to the ones seen in Seoul this month, is in need of revitalisation. The pressure to establish a more sustainable model of governance is immense, not least because South Korea finds itself at a strategic crossroads on the global stage. Whoever succeeds Ms. Park as President — and it might well be soon-to-retire UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — would have to address sky-high tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea, and manage an economy that is at risk of slowing. Ties are cooling with China, South Korea’s largest trading partner, and Beijing is hostile to the prospect of deploying the U.S.-made antiballistic missile system THAAD in the peninsula. Further, the rhetoric of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on economic protectionism and reviewing relationships with treaty allies does not help the South Korean cause. One way or another, the ball is in Ms. Park’s court, and she has the opportunity to bring the turmoil to a quick end.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 1:04:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/The-gathering-crisis-in-Seoul/article16701979.ece

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