Courtesy of Korean Graduate Student Association

November 12, 2016

Korean Cornellians Demand Resignation of South Korean President

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Approximately 40 Korean students gathered outside Sheldon Court and marched to Ho Plaza Friday night to peacefully call for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The protest was organized to mirror a movement in Seoul Friday night, where approximately a million citizens took to the streets to protest Park.

About three weeks ago, news emerged that Park has allegedly been taking advice from her lifelong friend, Choi Soon-sil. Choi has been accused of leading a cult and was arrested for using her relationship with Park to coerce companies to donate up to $70 million to Choi’s foundations. These organizations were later discovered to have embezzled funds for personal gain, according to The Washington Post.

Many South Korean citizens are demanding that Park resign immediately and to hold a re-election for a new administration, but with only a year left in her presidency, Park does not currently have any plans to resign, according to The Guardian.

Participants in the protest at Cornell held candles and signs that said, in Korean and English, “Resign President Park”, “You’ve shamed us all,” “Choi Sun-sil must be punished” and “President Park illegally accumulated wealth.” They also shouted in unison, “Resign President Park,” just as protesters were doing in Seoul that night.

“We are here to join the movement happening in Korea right now, to ask President Park to resign,” said Dong-wook Yoon grad. “We are hoping that our message gets heard all the way to Korea.”

Yuna Won grad, an organizer of the protest, stressed that Park’s mistakes are not “just another political corruption” but “an unconstitutional affair that Park must take responsibility for.”

“It turned out that Choi has exerted her influence on Park and her cabinet the last four years and meddled in most presidential decisions even regarding major appointments and national security without proper knowledge,” she said. “This means that the decision making process of Park’s administration was irrational and illegal.”

Won explained that South Korea has had some “depressing world records,” including the highest suicide rate and lowest birth rate. She said Park’s presidency has not benefitted the people and has actually “divided the country so deeply and disappointed the people so much.”

For example, Park’s administration and the Saenuri Party have been accused of sabotaging the investigation of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, “in which 304 passengers and crew members died, including more than 200 students on their way to a field trip,” according to Won.

“I think this nation-wide protest against Park and her administration is the culmination of the people’s frustration and disappointment about the government,” she said.

After seeing tens of thousands of citizens demonstrating against Park’s administration at home, Won said the KGSA grew increasingly sympathetic to the opposition movement.

“We wanted to express our support and add our voice in some way,” she said. “So we decided to throw our own rally.”

Won read a statement written by 14 members of KGSA aloud to the group. The statement demanded that Park step down, prosecutors thoroughly investigate the scandal and the Saenuri Party make a sincere apology to the people. The group also called for the corporations involved in Choi’s illegal accumulation of wealth to face the prosecution’s investigation and the policies and decisions made under Choi’s influence to be reconsidered.

Joo-hyun Im grad acknowledged that this small-scale protest may not have a significant political impact, but she said the goal was to give people an opportunity to express their personal frustrations.

“Personally, I was very angry with my country’s administration and I wanted to do anything I could abroad to express that and promote discussion on this issue,” she said. “If we do something and something changes, that’s great. But if we don’t do anything, nothing’s going to change.”

KGSA plans to hold demonstrations every Friday at 6 p.m. “at least until the end of the semester” until Park steps down, according to Won.