Reactions of the Public and Government to Choi Sun-sil Incident
Reactions of the Public and Government to Choi Sun-sil Incident
  • Reporter Kang Min-seok
  • 승인 2016.12.07 10:56
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After the personal gains of Choi Sun-sil and her acquaintances being involved in the decision making of the Korean government becoming widely known to public, people are enraged about the collapse of democratic order.
The most significant change is found in the public opinion poll. According to Gallup Korea, the approval rate for Park Geun-hye government has been below 5% for 3 weeks in a row, since the first week of November. Another poll conductor, Realmeter, also announced that the approval rate had decreased to 9.7%. Results from both organizations are the lowest since Park Geun-hye’s government has been established. A noteworthy point is that according to Gallup Korea, only 9% people who are 60 and older are supporting the president. This group has been the traditional supporters of President Park.
Candlelight rallies held on every Saturday also show how public sentiment has drastically changed after the Choi Sun-sil incident was unveiled. The first candlelight rally was held on Oct. 29 in Cheonggye-cheon, Seoul. According to the rally organizer, about 30,000 people participated in the first candlelight rally. Reflecting on the raging public sentiment, participants kept increasing. 300,000 people participated on Nov. 5, and 1,000,000 people participated on Nov. 12. On Nov. 19, the rally was held in multiple places including Pohang, and approximately 1,000,000 people in total participated in the rally. Also, celebrities including singer Lee Seung-hwan and actor Yoo Ah-In participated in the rally.
High viewing rate of TV programs about Choi Sun-sil incident also proves people’s high interest in the incident. Especially, JTBC ‘Newsroom’ and ‘Ssul Jeon’ each rated 8.784% on Oct. 31 and 8.446% on Nov. 3, which were the highest records since two programs had been broadcasted.
Furthermore, the government’s response was disappointing in spite of anger and high interest of the public. Especially, President Park’s statement disappointed the public as the majority of the statement had been discovered to be untrue. In the apology presented by the president on Oct. 25, President Park pointed out that Choi Sun-sil only helped her during election period and a little after the inauguration. However, Supreme Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) falsified it by announcing prosecution of Jeong Ho-seong on Nov. 20, former secretary of the president. The president made an additional statement on Nov. 4, saying that the incident was not related to her and that she would also receive an investigation by SPO. President Park soon back-pedaled and refused to receive face-to-face investigation, and SPO’s investigation indicated that Cheongwadae was deeply connected to the incident. Through the statement made on Nov. 29, President Park practically denied her accusation and refused to resign voluntarily.
Ways the government has tried to clarify the suspicion is also being criticized. After the people’s approval rate of the government decreased, President Park accepted the resignation of the secretaries who were suspicious for being related to the Choi Sun-sil incident, and appointed a new prime minister candidate, Kim Byung-Jun. However, the opposition parties strongly disapproved the appointment as they argued for a caretaker government or resignation of the president. The government also disapproves of the method of special prosecution. According to the so-called “Choi Sun-sil Special Prosecution Act,” only the opposing parties can make a suggestion of special prosecutor. The government is critical about this clause, concerning the violation of neutrality. However, now that the president is one of the subjects of investigation, opposing parties and citizens are arguing that allowing the ruling party to make a suggestion of the special prosecutor is unacceptable.
The reaction of the government could change the situation into advantageous direction for the president and Cheongwadae, but their maneuver was not sufficient to satisfy the public. As the investigation is ongoing and special prosecution is being prepared, how the government will respond to more identified facts is drawing public attention.