Public anger shows no signs of subsiding
President Park Geun-hye is facing mounting public calls to resign as more and more people vent their outrage and frustration over the sprawling influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving her confidant.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to participate in a mass anti-government rally in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, Saturday, holding banners and shouting slogans such as "Park Out" and "The Park regime should step down."
The rally came a day after Park made her second televised apology for the scandal in which her longtime fried Choi Soon-sil allegedly meddled in state affairs and profited from her ties with the President. It was second of its kind after the previous demonstration a week ago.
Rally organizers estimated the number of protesters at around 200,000, the largest turnout in more than a year, although police put the number at about 50,000.
The demonstrators urged the President to take all the responsibility for the scandal and step down, believing her apology wasn't enough.
They denounced the President for allegedly allowing Choi to interfere in government policy and use her shadowy connections with the head of state to coerce conglomerates into donating 80 billion won ($70 million) to Mir and K-Sports foundations Choi controlled.
The number of protesters soared as the rally was merged with the funeral for late farmer activist Baek Nam-ki earlier in the day, who died September after ten months of coma after being knocked down by water from a police water cannon during a mass rally in Seoul last November.
People from all walks of life including middle and high school students, many with families and friends, came to the rally.
The number of protesters didn't decrease until 9 p.m. when the organizer declared the end of the peaceful rally. Citizens, however, kept arriving, some staying until after 11 p.m. In the area between Gwanghwamun and City Hall, thousands shared speeches.
While there were minor clashes between conservative group members and rally participants, no violence occurred between participants and the police.
"I didn't come last week, but watching the news, I decided to come here to demonstrate our firm will against Park," said office worker Im Yong-ki, 39, who came with his wife and baby in a stroller.
"Park's apology failed to appropriately address the people's questions about the Choi scandal but was full of excuses," he said, adding that his family will return next week again from Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province.
Like the Oct. 29 rally, older people joined hands.
"Older people's fury has worsened after Park's speech on Friday," said Ahn Tae-jeong, 79, from Yeouido in Seoul.
This time, foreign residents were there as well.
"I am proud of the Korean people for fighting for the right for democracy," said Jennifer Conrod, 33, an English teacher from Canada. Based on her understanding about this political crisis, she agreed on resignation, saying, "Park is not above the law."
After the demonstration from 4 p.m. at Gwanghwamun Square, people spread to Jongno, Euljiro, Myeong-dong and Sungnyemun. Besides the slogan of resignation, people also called for truth about Park's absence for seven hours after the Sewol ferry disaster.
"Safe society, seven missing hours, imprison Park," people chanted, walking with Sewol ferry victims along the Cheonggye Stream.
"I know my son can't come back even if Park steps down," said Kwon Mi-hwa, 42, the mother of one victim. With the student ID of her son, Oh Young-seok, hanging from her neck, she expressed her gratitude for the public support. "Park should have explained about her absence. I was surprised to hear Park denied shamanistic rituals on the day. Is she kidding?"
For youth, the disaster was another reason for Park's resignation. "It's my second participation in protest, after the one for Sewol ferry disaster in 2014," said a high school student surnamed Seo, 17, from Eunpyeong-gu. Asked about the meaning of the tragedy in her life, she burst into tears, showing deep trauma felt among her peer group.
This unprecedented influence-meddling scandal gave Koreans a chance to reflect on their attitudes to politics.
"I was not that interested in politics," said Lee Yong-seok, 26, office worker. "I learned that chaebol and elites have taken full control of this society. Park's resignation is the first step to root out the corruptions," he said.
This scandal has raised frustration particularly among the generation who led democratization of Korea in the 1980s and 90s. "I entered university in 1989 and walked this street for democratization," said Jeong Cheol-hoon, 48, who came with his son from Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. "It's very sad to see my 13-year-old son walking this street again."
Protests were also held in big cities around the country. Demonstrators called for the resignation of Park in Daegu, her power base.
More than 5,000 people poured out into streets in the southeastern port city of Busan. Over 3,000 rallied in the southern city of Gwanju and about 700 gathered in the southeastern city of Ulsan.
Prosecution secures key evidence in Choi scandal
The prosecution Monday secured what appears to be physical evidence that Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye’s longtime confidante, meddled in state affairs in an escalating probe into the influence-peddling scandal.
Prosecutors said they discovered recorded phone conversations between President Park’s former presidential aide Jeong Ho-seong and Park as well as with Choi from his phone seized during their raid on his home late last month.
Jeong, ex-secretary for the president’s private affairs, was arrested Sunday on charges of leaking official secrets. Jeong, who resigned on Oct. 30 following the scandal, allegedly handed over classified documents such as presidential speeches and policy guidelines to Choi.
The investigation team also called in for questioning two executive directors, surnamed Park and Lee, of a business lobby group the Federation of Korean Industries.
The FKI is suspected of encouraging its member firms to contribute nearly 80 billion won ($69.9million) to the K-Sports and Mir foundations. Choi and former presidential secretary An Chong-bum allegedly played a key role in founding the nonprofit foundations and raising donations for them.
The prosecution is focusing on finding out why President Park had a closed-door luncheon meeting with 17 chiefs of local conglomerates in July last year. It allegedly secured An’s testimonies that the president asked for their financial donations to the non-profit foundations during the meeting.
In a second televised address Friday, Park said that she regrets disappointing local firms who offered help to her out of good will, adding that the donations for the foundations were to help the nation’s economy and Koreans’ lives.
The prosecution also summoned the deputy secretary general of the Mir Foundation and chief of the Korean branch of Widec Sports owned by Choi. It is looking into whether the donations were funneled into Choi’s private companies.
Ex-presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo, suspected of embezzlement and abuse of authority, returned home Monday after a 15-hour questioning session. The prosecution is considering whether to look into allegations that he condoned Choi’s alleged meddling in state affairs while serving as a presidential aide for civic affairs.
Choi was arrested Thursday on charges of abuse of authority as an accessory to An, a former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, and for attempted fraud for siphoning off funds from the K-Sports and Mir foundations for private use.
An was arrested on charges of abusing authority and attempted coercion Sunday for his involvement in raising funds for the foundations.
President Park appears to deny her involvement in forcing local firms to donate money to the foundations. In a second televised address Friday, Park said that she regrets disappointing local firms who offered help to her out of good will, adding that the donations for the foundations were to help the nation’s economy and the lives of the Korean people.
The prosecution also summoned the deputy secretary-general of the Mir Foundation and chief of the Korean branch of Widec Sports owned by Choi. It is looking into whether the donations were funneled into Choi through Choi’s firms Germany-based firms.
Ex-presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo, suspected of embezzlement and abuse of authority, returned home Monday after a 15-hour questioning session.
Woo was questioned over allegations that he siphoned off funds from his family-owned company and used his influence to get his son assigned to a relatively easy post while serving mandatory military service.
The prosecution is set to look into his alleged dereliction of his duty in connection with the Choi Soon-sil scandal. It asked the Justice Ministry to impose a travel ban on Woo.
Woo was suspected of not doing his job properly while serving as a presidential secretary for civic affairs by turning a blind eye to Choi peddling influence over personnel appointments and state affairs.
Park's approval rating hits record-low of 5%
President Park Geun-hye's approval rating has plunged to 5 percent ― the lowest for any South Korean president in modern history ― amid a swirling scandal involving her confidant Choi Soon-sil.
According to a Gallop Korea survey released Friday, her approval rating has fallen by 12 percentage points from last week's approval rating to 5 percent.
This is the lowest since she took office in February 2013 ― and the lowest for any president at any moment since the republic was founded in 1948. The previous record was 6 percent for Kim Young-sam when the nation was hit by the Asian financial crisis in late 1997.
This is the result of interviews with 1,005 respondents nationwide, aged 19 and over from Tuesday to Thursday, according to the pollster.
The rating has been falling for seven consecutive weeks since the second week of September when the figure stood at 33 percent, the poll said.
"Looking at the past presidents' job performance ratings, former President Kim Young-sam had both the highest and lowest records of 83 percent and 6 percent in his first year and fifth year, respectively," Gallop Korea said. "This survey shows President Park's approval rating was the lowest for sitting South Korean presidents."
In addition, 89 percent of the respondents disapproved Park's job performance, up 15 percent point from last week. Six percent of the people left no comments.
By region, Park's approval was 2 percent in Seoul and 0 percent in South Jeolla Province while Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province showed 10 percent of support.
The poll also showed that Park's approval rate stood at 1 percent from those in their 20s and 30s while 13 percent of those aged 60s and above supported Park.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea's support rating was the highest ― 31 percent, followed by ruling Saenuri Party and the People's Party with 18 and 13 percent, respectively.
President Park made her second apology on the scandal Friday, expressing her willingness to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the scandal if necessary.
Saenuri heavyweights turn on Park
President Park Geun-hye’s political predicament worsened Monday, with a former leader of her own ruling party demanding she leave the party.
Kim Moo-sung, a former Saenuri leader, held an emergency conference at the National Assembly and criticized Park for the scandal that involved her allowing her confidante Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state affairs and siphon public funds.
“The president is supposed to protect the Constitution, yet she ran the government in a way that violated it. ... Her powers as the president, bestowed upon her by the people, was used in order to let the Choi family meddle in state affairs and pursue unlawful gains,” he said. “As Saenuri’s No.1 member, the president must leave the party in order to save it.”
Kim stressed that Park leaving the party will allow Saenuri to gain back some of the trust it lost in light of the scandal, adding that the party can even oust the president if she refuses to leave.
He urged Park to accept the opposition’s request for the launch of a neutral Cabinet, while withdrawing her nomination of Kim Byong-joon as the new prime minister and asking the parliament to recommend the new premier.
The opposition and some within the ruling party had decried Park’s pick of Kim and demanded that she let the National Assembly appoint the nation’s new second-in-command, who will take on a much more prominent role.
Kim, a bigwig of the nonmainstream faction within the ruling party, has butted heads with the president on several occasions while he was the party leader, particularly during the nomination process of the general election earlier in the year.
As the president’s approval rating dropping to a low of 5 percent last week, calls for Park to leave the party have been growing even within the Saenuri. They have demanded that Park relinquish her control of state affairs, while retaining her post.
Rep. Kang Seok-ho, the only member of the party’s Supreme Council who is not of the mainstream “pro-Park” faction, stepped down from his post Monday while demanding a reshuffle of the party’s leadership. He echoed Kim’s demands of forming a neutral Cabinet and Park taking a back seat in state affairs.
Rep. Ha Tae-keung, who is also not of the pro-Park faction, said in a Facebook post Monday that it is “very clear” that the president had played a role in the Choi scandal.
“As the prosecution and an independent counsel carries out the investigation, the clearer it will be that Park interfered. ... She must take responsibility,” he wrote, urging Park to “let it go.”
Saenuri leader Lee Jung-hyun, however, refused to step down immediately and asked for more time “to help the president.”
The opposition stepped up calls for Park to resign, buoyed by nationwide discontent that was apparent in the some 200,000 protestors demanding Park’s resignation in central Seoul on Saturday.
“Park must withdraw her Cabinet reshuffle that is directly against public sentiment and must accept the parliament’s recommendation. ... If she continues to refuse, we will have no choice but to push for her resignation,” said Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.
The president has requested for talks with opposition leaders, but the parties have demanded Park’s cancellation of Kim’s nomination as a precondition to the meeting.
Democratic Party floor leader Woo Sang-ho has said that unless Park withdraws the prime minister nomination, the party will not accept her request for a meeting with the party leader. “It can only lead to one of the following three; cancelling the nomination, (Kim’s) resignation or the parliament’s refusal. The conclusion has already been set,” he said.
Rep. Park Jie-won, the floor leader of the minor opposition People’s Party, said that in addition to cancelling the nomination, Park should leave Saenuri before coming to the meeting.
The party’s nine first-term legislators officially demanded the president bow out for the sake of the nation, stressing that her presidency is “broken beyond repair.”
“No exercise of the president’s governing authority would earn the public’s endorsement. The only way for President Park to serve the country is by vacating the office voluntarily,” they said in a joint press conference at the National Assembly.
Park’s new Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok said that the president could discuss the nomination at the meeting, admitting that the process “has had some problems.”
“While recognizing the problems, it is important for party leaders (and the president) to meet in order to have sufficient time to discuss how to solve this problem,” he said, adding that Park could pay a visit to the parliament if necessary.
Calls for Park’s impeachment have also been growing.
Rep. Chun Jung-bae, formerly the leader of the People’s Party, suggested that the lawmakers should immediately commence discussion on impeaching Park.
Stressing that it is his personal opinion and not the position of his party, Chun called for formation of an interim government and a nationwide discussion on reforming the state system and the presidency itself.
OP Note: There's going to be another rally on the 12th at Gwanghwamun, and I'll be attending this one, so I'll let y'all know how that goes. If you would like a basic understanding of what's going on in this clusterfuck of a country right now, this post does a pretty good job explaining things. But the information dump has been massive and rapid, so it's hard to summarize everything that's been going on.
On a lighter note, the protestors were apparently carrying trash bags and had designated trash collection points so that pro-PGH people couldn't muddy the waters around the protests to complain about the mess that often gets left behind after a rally. Someone tried to pass off a picture taken after a UK football match as the 'aftermath of the Gwanghwamun protests' but the mayor of Seoul shut that shit down real quick. (Sorry the links are in Korean, but there are pictures in the first article that show that the streets were cleaner after the protests than before lol)