May 24, 2017 13:30
Disgraced former President Park Geun-hye showed up in court on Tuesday in handcuffs with her prisoner number 503 pinned to her chest, her first public appearance since she was indicted on April 17. She would still be president had it not been for the massive influence-peddling and corruption scandal that brought out millions into the street to demand her ouster. To the court, she is simply "the accused Park Geun-hye." This is undeniably humiliating for an ex-president, but it is worse for the public to witness.
Park denies all of the 18 criminal charges she faces, including bribery and abuse of power, and now faces a protracted legal battle. The court must ensure that the trial proceeds purely according to law and that any decisions judges make are made based solely on the evidence before them. Political groups must not seek to wield any influence or pressure. Many people are incredulous at the events unfolding before their eyes because the ousted leader had so many opportunities to avoid her present fate.
What she fails to understand is that her fault goes far beyond letting someone like her secret confidante Choi Soon-sil wield so much control over her administration. Park erred by keeping herself shut away, using authoritarian methods that turned the clock back decades, being incapable of accepting criticism, relying on a small coterie of advisers, and invariably choosing the wrong people to work for her -- in short, treating the presidency like her private fiefdom rather than a public office.
Park is the third president of Korea to appear in court facing criminal charges, but other former leaders have faced other dire outcomes, including asylum, assassination and suicide. This is tragic for a country with only a 70-year history of constitutional rule. How long will this continue?
The existing presidential system, in which leaders wield tremendous power while their policies are stonewalled by the National Assembly, has run its course. Koreans will get to vote on a new Constitution in June next year. We must put an end to a political landscape where parties battle it out simply to ensure that their candidate gets to be president, and a system that hands absolute power to the president who then goes on a vendetta against his or her rivals once in office. It is time for Korean democracy to grow up.
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