Over one million people rushed onto the Seoul streets on Saturday in what some call the greatest protest in Korean history. The protests are related to the unwillingness of Korean president Park Geun-hye to resign after a political scandal that led to a parliamentary motion for her impeachment.
The motion, supported by 171 MPs, accuses the president of being in violation of the constitution and undermining the democratic process. It seems that Park allowed a friend of hers to access sensitive state documents. The information is claimed to have been used to blackmail companies to make payments to funds, controlled by Park’s friend. The document also charges the president with corruption, bribery, abuse of power and large-scale embezzlement.
Why is this such a major protest?
The Korean public have been enraged by Park’s attempt to postpone the discussion of the motion and saw this as a tactical move to gain more time to try to win back party members that signed it.
Park’s friend – Choi – already faces charges for meddling in government affairs. In an unprecedented action, the Korean state prosecution named the acting president “a suspect”.As president, Park is immune to criminal prosecution, except for insurrection or treason, but she would lose that immunity once she stepped down.
Is this a protest against cronyism?
This blatant case of cronyism shows how vulnerable democracy is to corruption and how it can be hijacked by people who put their private interests above the interest of the public. Above all it shows the unholy alliance between democratic politicians and big business. Large business owners deliberately cultivate friendly relationships with politicians in order to profit from their influence. This theme is present in one of the episodes of the Russian TV series “Brigada”, where the protagonist – a capo of a mafia group – starts playing tennis for the purpose of establishing contact with the chairman of a state agency controlling liquor. The friendship helps him get a huge tax reduction on the import of alcohol and allows him to launder a large part of his dirty money.
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A tycoon with friends in the state administration, can obtain lucrative government contracts and can be the first to get information about important macroeconomic changes that will affect the market. Vital and sensitive information about the competition can be made available to private individuals who can then use it to rig the market in their favour or to extort and muscle other enterprises out.
One of the reasons that this happens among civil servants is that they are elected only for a short period of time. They often quit their ordinary careers and they don’t have any career plans after their term is over. Being employed by a political party that is not in power anymore is quite often not a rewarding experience. It is why such politics tend to be quite friendly to business – first of all they may hope to get appointed on a senior management position in that company after the end of their term. Another reason is that they try to maximize their gains by taking every opportunity, legal or not, to make an additional buck. Their power and wealth is not secure, as the power and wealth of the corporate mogul. Their short terms don’t allow for a sense of public duty and purpose to emerge. Acting politicians are usually middle class citizens, looking at their public service not as an opportunity to improve society, but as a short window of time in which they can further their own interests and climb up the social ladder.
Simon Vlahov writing for the Apollo Institute of Reason AIR Review©