South Korea’s jailed ex-president claims she’s a victim, undermining public trust in politicians
Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye recently invoked a textbook response to the corruption charges arrayed against her. The once democratically elected former leader blamed her 2017 downfall on a “political conspiracy”, claiming the allegations against her stemmed from her opponents’ maliciousness. In her long face as she offered this desperate argument, both sides of South Korea could be seen at the same time.
Park is certainly facing penalties that would be unthinkable in many other countries. Rarely do we see powerful or once-powerful politicians so legally
vulnerable after being accused of corruption. For this, South Korea’s political and judicial systems are to be
What does not warrant praise is Park’s conspiracy claim, which does considerable damage to a nation that has seen high-ranking officeholders resign over misfortunes and scandals that didn’t even involve them personally. Park’s charge that political rivals were conspiring against her could have a long-term impact on South Korea’s war on graft.
There was a time, many decades ago now, when politicians had to be untainted, at least in the eyes of the voting public. Since then, the stakes of power have risen, political competition has intensified and the news media started reporting what had previously been covered up. With every candidate’s taints in plain view, voters nowadays are increasingly choosing the lesser evil listed on the ballot.
Should conspiracy claims be acceptable in politics, particularly in a democracy? Advocates of constitutional immunity for parliamentarians and other political officeholders insist that mudslinging is a necessary if unseemly weapon, so these people have the “right” to use it in defence, even when it’s denied to ordinary citizens.
It’s an argument that can really only be used selectively, with a distinction made between unfounded and proven charges of corruption. If there is solid evidence for the charge, it allows for immunity from conspiracy claims. Otherwise, the fight against high-level corruption will stall. Park was imprisoned because the court was shown tangible evidence and she thus has no right to cry conspiracy.
The Constitutional Court removed her from office over a scandal that also landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail. It found her guilty of bribery and coercion in colluding with the conglomerates to help a friend’s family and non-profit foundations in return for a massive kickback. Days ago, insisting to the end she was the victim of a political conspiracy, Park was fined the equivalent of Bt585 million. Her jail sentence was even lengthened, to 25 years.
Anyone can claim to be a victim. It’s then up to the court to rule if the claim is proved or disproved. In Park’s case, the matter takes on substantial additional weight in the context of curbing corruption. It must also be said that South Koreans deserve a focused, scandal-free government.
Conspiracy claims tossed about without verification can hamper the fight against corruption because, if left unchallenged, future politicians will copy the practice. If these politicians have large followings, the claim feeds divisiveness. It can lead democracy astray from its foundation of following the will of the majority. And no system that overlooks real victims and allows undeserving people to play the victims will last for long.