Mixed Reactions to Park’s Ouster

On March 10, Koreans in Palisades Park, New Jersey, read local newspaper articles about South Korea’s court ruling to officially remove President Park Geun-hye from office. (Photo via Korea Daily)

[Translator’s note: On March 9 (EST), the Constitutional Court of South Korea unanimously ruled to formally remove impeached President Park Geun-hye from office, marking the first time in South Korea’s history of democracy that an elected leader had been ousted from power. Park has been at the heart of a corruption scandal involving her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, who has been accused of using her presidential connections to pressure companies like Samsung and Hyundai to give large sums of money to artistic and athletic foundations she controlled, which caused a national outcry last October. The court verdict to uphold parliament’s decision to impeach Park over her role in the scandal is the culmination of months of political turmoil and more than a dozen massive protests. Following the court ruling, an election for the new president must be held within 60 days, by May 9 at the latest. Just as public sentiment over the ruling is deeply divided in South Korea, that division is also reflected in the hopes and feelings of Korean immigrants living in New York and New Jersey, shared in this story.]

As the unprecedented ruling from South Korea’s Constitutional Court to remove President Park Geun-hye from office unfolded, the Korean community in New York and New Jersey expressed deeply divided views over the verdict: Some greeted the decision with cheers believing that the democratic system had won and some cried out with opposition that the decision was impartial and unacceptable.

The leaders of some Korean groups banded together to share the opinion that it was time to show the world that Koreans across the globe can move forward united, amid the national chaos. “The Constitutional Court ruling is not something that we can debate any longer; whether we like it or not, it’s what we ought to follow,” said Minsun Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater New York. “Not only is it time for Koreans to be united, but the Korean community in the U.S. also needs to move forward in harmony all together.” She added: “I expect South Korea’s democracy to evolve during this national time and serve as a momentum for change, and I hope the Korean immigrant community will join the movement.”

“It’s lamentable that a democratically-elected president has been ousted from power for the first time in South Korea’s history,” said Eunrim Park, president of the Korean American Association of New Jersey. “But we need to respect and accept the ruling. All the rhetoric that divides the country should be stopped now to overcome this national turmoil. It’s time to show our wisdom to see the bright side of our future.” She also stressed that Koreans in the U.S. who are eligible to vote in South Korea’s elections should actively participate in this election for a new president, and pledged that the association will assist them to boost voter turnout in this election.

Yet, among the Korean community, there is still a sharp division of opinion over the impeachment decision.

“Impeaching Park Geun-hye means the end of the Park Chung-hee [Cold War military dictator and the father of Park Geun-hye] era,” said Sungyoun Park, 59, of Long Island, who once participated in a New York City candlelight rally in favor of the impeachment. “[By correcting the history of dictatorship and eliminating its remains,] I will be able to feel proud before our next generation.” He added: “Removing one person from power won’t change the world entirely. We should focus on seriously thinking about how to make this world a better place.”

Contrary to the optimism and excitement over the court ruling, some Koreans who led opposition to the impeachment rallies, called “Taegukgi [flag of South Korea] Rallies,” still oppose the ruling.

“We can’t accept the unanimous verdict from the court. South Korea’s [rule of law] has collapsed,” said Jung Myoung Hee, co-president of the South Korean Patriots Friendship Association of New York and New Jersey, which led six Taegukgi rallies in NY and NJ since last November. “We will continue to fight to rebuild our liberal democracy, the spirit of South Korea’s national foundation. We will continuously hold Taegukgi rallies every week.”

Korean scholars in the U.S. said that the court ruling showed that South Korea’s democracy has matured. “The massive, grass-roots candlelight rallies of citizens changed the politics of South Korea. They elevated South Korea’s democracy one step higher,” said sociology professor Pyong Gap Min, director of the Research Center for Korean Community at Queens College. “[The South Korean government] should listen to what their citizens are truly longing for and build genuine democracy based on that.”

“As was mentioned by foreign correspondents, this case proves that South Korea’s democratic system has matured a great deal. This is a case from which the U.S. and other countries could learn a great deal in that it proves that mass democracy is alive,” said Joong-Hwan Oh, associate professor of sociology at Hunter College. “Also, it was impressive that the Constitutional Court finally made a clear ruling against the close relations between politics and businesses, South Korea’s chronic problem. The court showed that immoral men in power can’t govern or control business anymore.”

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