Park GH soon to arrive at her house in Samsung-dong. pic.twitter.com/dnZNLx1IbK
— … (@yoonjung_seo) March 12, 2017
Around 6:30 p.m Sunday, a motorcade escorting former South Korean president Park Geun-hye left the presidential Blue House. About an hour later, it reached her private residence in Gangnam, south of the Han river. She exited her vehicle, greeted her supporters with a smile but entered the house without making any formal address.
She did ask a lawmaker from the conservative Liberty Korea Party to read out a statement, written in a small pocketbook.
“I am sorry that I could not see through the tasks entrusted upon me as president. I thank the people who have believed and cheered me on. I will accept full responsibility for this whole development. It will take time, but I believe that truth will certainly come out.”
Coming two and half days after Park was formally stripped of presidency by the Constitutional Court, those words may signal how Park will behave in the days and weeks to come. While her own Liberty Korea Party accepted the court ruling that ousted her, she has said nothing about respecting the outcome.
Park’s hardcore supporters, a small minority though it may be, reacted with anger and violence in the immediate aftermath of the ruling. Three of them died as a result of the protest near the courthouse Friday. Hundreds of them also gathered near Park’s house in Gangnam on Sunday afternoon to denounce the removal of Park from power, and to enthusiastically greet her upon arrival.
On the other side of the political aisle, there was jubilation over the weekend. The same crowd that had held 19 demonstrations, some of them attracting over a million people, came together once more in downtown Seoul Saturday evening to celebrate Park’s ouster.
Candlelight victory vigil in central Seoul right now: "The Republic of Korea is a democratic nation" pic.twitter.com/CUvtebFs19
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) March 11, 2017
It feels like a great moment for South Korean democracy. People demanded and oversaw the fall of a corrupt leader. A new president will be elected sometime in the next 57 days. Hope springs eternal.
It may, however, be premature to say the Choi Soon-sil saga is over. Choi, Park’s confidante who precipitated this whole scandal, is still being prosecuted. Other players including Samsung’s de facto head Lee Jae-yong are also undergoing or facing trials. Park herself will likely face charges, possibly as early as this week. It will take months for the criminal proceedings to wrap up.
And Park Geun-hye will not capitulate, if one is to go buy her written statement. She seems to genuinely believe she is not responsible for her own fate. And her words add fuel to the theory her followers are spreading, that she is a victim of a vast conspiracy plotted by the media, the opposition and “pro-North korean sympathizers.” No small number of media outlets noted Sunday evening that on arrival, Park’s eyes welled up with tears even as she was smiling. Picking up on that “victim image,” her political allies have taken to talking about how pitiful she was, and how unfit her house was for her (including that her “living room is very cold.”)
She seems intent on fighting possible prosecution by eliciting pity. But her only hope is for liberals to somehow fail to clinch victory in the upcoming election. (It is an unlikely scenario but anything is possible in politics.) Prosecutors are quick to smell change in political wind. For now the wind blows against her, but should it turn again, then they will lose enthusiasm to go after her with vengeance.
Park is a survivor. This is the second time she is being pushed out of the Blue House, the first time being after the death of her father, General Park Chung-hee, in 1979. She rose like a phoenix from that experience, entering politics, becoming leader of the conservatives and winning the presidency. Can she survive this time? Only time will tell.
Cover image: “Former president Park shakes hands with pro-Park lawmakers who came to greet her.” (Source: YTN, via @yoonjung_seo on Twitter)
Se-Woong Koo wrote this radar report.