South Korea's Break With the Past

The End of the Long Park Chung-hee Era

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the 1970s, when she served as her father's first lady, released December 2012. Reuters

On Tuesday, South Koreans elected liberal candidate Moon Jae-in to the presidency. Moon’s victory brought an end to the prolonged period of uncertainty, following the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye on corruption charges in December, and her removal from office in March.

On one level, Park Geun-hye’s fall from grace, occasioned by an improper relationship with a longtime aide and family friend, can be seen as a sad—even tragic—personal tale, many details of which still remain unclear. It is also an important moment in the history of South Korean democracy—one in which new laws and institutions, put into place in the late 1980s to constrain presidential power, seemed to work as they had been designed. (The Constitutional Court, which legally removed Park from power in March, was established for just such a purpose in 1988.) 

But from an even deeper historical perspective, Park’s impeachment

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