With impeached former President Park Geun-hye now found guilty of corruption and facing a sentence of 24 years in jail, South Korea has once again shown how corrupt its so-called democracy is since the military dictators gave up power in 1992. The first democratically elected President, Roh Tae-woo, ended up in jail for corruption and treason. Another Roh but no relation, Roh Myun-hyun, President from 2003 to 2008, committed suicide when under investigation also for corruption and treason. Ironically Roh was elected on a platform to root out corruption but was soon facing impeachment proceedings before his term was suspended. President Park’s immediate predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, is now under investigation for a second time for bribery and stock price manipulation.
Even one of the cleanest Presidents, former dissident, icon of South Korea’s push for democracy and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kim Dae-jung, was to see no less than three of his sons caught up in major corruption charges.
The scandal surrounding President Park who relied for much of her advice on an unelected Svengali-like figure, Choi Soon-sil, who persuaded Park to extort millions from the large chaebols (conglomerates) for her – Choi’s – and her daughter’s personal use has rocked and divided the nation. The unmarried Park had a hugely stressful upbringing. In 1974 her mother was murdered by the North Koreans in a plot aimed at killing her dictator father. Then in 1979 her father was murdered by his Intelligence Chief. Had she remained in power, it is considered highly unlikely the North Koreans would have been invited to participate in the Winter Olympics and the present thaw in relations with the North would not have taken place. Such are the ways of history!
With a semi-farcical democracy in The Philippines, a dictatorship involved in massive bribery schemes involving billions of US dollars about to announce new “elections” in Malaysia, a self-elected autocracy running Singapore, a government in Japan that is a false democracy and where the press is not free, a former President of Taiwan (Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008) serving a 20-year jail term for corruption and scandals involving himself, his wife and son, and a military junta still in charge of Thailand, it is surely understandable that many commentators are asking if democracy and universal suffrage is the ideal way forward for Asian societies?
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