South Korea's Shamanic Panic

Park Geun-hye's Scandal in Context

South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses the nation from the Blue House in Seoul, November 2016. Reuters

For over a month now, South Koreans have been asking a rather unusual question for citizens of a modern democracy: whether their president, Park Geun-hye, could have been under the influence of the supernatural while in office. This question was brought to public attention by the October 24 revelation that Choi Soon-sil, an alleged mudang (shaman) and the daughter of a prominent cult leader, had been given extensive (and illegal) access to the president. On November 20, Choi was indicted for embezzlement, extortion, and abuse of authority; prosecutors identified Park as an accomplice and a criminal suspect in relation to Choi’s indictment.

Choi, a longtime friend of Park, was arrested on November 2 for abuse of authority and fraud. She had reportedly been given access to state secrets and was allowed to exert an influence on policymaking, despite having neither a security clearance nor any official position. Her only credential was that

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