Park Leaves Behind a Divided South Korea

What Her Ouster Means for the Nation's Future

Former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

On March 9, 2017, South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously upheld the impeachment of Park Geun-hye for having violated the Constitution by sharing state secrets with her civilian friend, Choi Soon-sil and facilitating Choi’s schemes to extract favors from private corporations. The court declared that Park had “seriously impaired the spirit of democracy and the rule of law.” The decision followed months of protests that started after the scandal broke in October 2016 and culminated in the National Assembly’s December 9, 2016 vote to divest Park of executive power.

Observers around the world have hailed South Koreans’ impressive display of peaceful resistance as millions of citizens consistently gathered to demand Park’s removal and the restoration of the rule of law. It is certainly true that the country, often referred to as the “Republic of Protests,” has mastered the art and politics of peaceful mobilization and organization after five decades fighting authoritarianism and the perceived legacies of Japanese and U.S. domination in South Korea’s economic and political life. But the protests, and Park’s eventual ouster, have severely divided the country.

Park’s supporters, mostly older conservatives roughly categorized as 50 and above, trust Park’s political lineage as a staunch anti-Communist standing tough against the North’s threatening gestures and reacted with rage at the court’s decision. They had witnessed South Korea’s miraculous economic transformation under the leadership of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, and distrust younger citizens whom they view as politically naïve, unfamiliar with personal sacrifice on behalf of the nation, and dangerously willing to engage in cooperative inter-Korean relations. Some of Park’s supporters even responded to the court decision with violence, attacking the police and journalists outside the court. Others destroyed police vehicles, threatened suicide to demonstrate their loyalty to her, and claimed that North Korea was the mastermind behind the pro-impeachment protests to wreak social conflict and weaken South Korea. The eight members of the court, most of whom were appointed by Park or

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