By Hannah Stafford, News Editor
Despite the intensity and scandal that has surrounded America’s current election, the U.S. is not the only country with presidential problems. More than 40,000 people filled the streets of Seoul, South Korea, demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye on Nov. 5. According to Reuters, crowds of this size have not been seen in South Korea since the protest against U.S. beef import in 2008.
The protests began after Park confessed to allowing her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to highly influence many decisions she has made during her four years in office. Park has admitted to sharing classified documents with Choi, as well as allowing Choi to read and change public speeches before they were delivered, according to CNN. Media and other opposition in South Korea has accused Choi of using her influence on Park to direct funds to her own organization.
Park has appeared twice on television since the news broke, offering apologies and asking for understanding.
“I cut off all ties with my family members out of fear of unfortunate incidents,” Park said. “I had no one nearby to help me with personal matters, so I turned to Choi Soon-sil for help.”
She continued, “All of this happening is my fault. It happened because of my neglect.”
According to a Gallup Poll released on Nov. 5, Park’s overall public approval has plummeted from roughly 30 percent to less than 5 percent in the last week. In young adults under the age of 40, her approval is less than one percent.
An 18 year-old high student and protester told Reuters that “even though we’re just students, we feel like we can’t put up with this unreasonable society anymore, so we’re participating in this protest with like-minded friends.”
The story went public on Nov. 2, when CNN South Korean affiliate JTBC found indication of Choi receiving classified documents on an electronic device. After the news broke, several of Park’s aides resigned and on Wednesday, Park relieved the country’s prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, of office.
Choi was placed under “emergency detention” on Oct. 31.
The prosecutor’s office told CNN on Nov. 1 that “Choi has denied all of the charges against her, and we’re concerned that she may destroy evidence.”
“She has fled overseas in the past, and she doesn’t have a permanent address in Korea, making her a flight risk,” they said. “She is also in an extremely unstable psychological state, and it’s possible an unexpected event could occur if she is released.”
The following day, Choi was arrested. Her attorney, Lee Kyung-jae, indicated to CNN correspondent YTN that Choi will cooperate with officials during the investigation.
Lee told reporters Nov. 6 that “[Choi] is deeply remorseful that she had caused frustration and despondency among the public.”
David Kang, director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, told CNN that the Choi family has always exercised control over Park and that this news should not be all that surprising.
“The friend’s father, Choi Tae-min, was head of a cult-like religion back in the 70s and began to mentor Ms. Park when she was in her early 20s,” Kang said. “So the family has had an extraordinary influence over Park Geun-hye for essentially her entire adult life. It’s much more than simply, ‘Oh she knows this person,’ it’s deeply intertwined, almost like they’re Rasputin and Park Geun-hye is just a puppet.”