It has been a month since South Korea was outraged by the Cho Kuk scandal. Cho Kuk, a professor for law studies at Seoul University, was alleged with the exploitation of Kuk’s social status to help his daughter falsify her academic achievements. This provoked immense controversy as Korea has long been an academically competitive country with millions of students stressing over college admissions. This further aggravated when his family was given a travel ban due to allegations of illegal business practices, investments, and management. Despite all these debates, on September 9th, President Moon officially appointed Kuk as the Minister of Justice. Although Cho Kuk eventually stepped down, the scandal became a momentous subject to the whole nation.
On August 27th, it was reported that about 20 locations were raided by the prosecutor’s office. The allegation was sparked off from the paper the daughter took part in an international medical research paper (Korea Journal of Pathology), listing herself as the head author, which is almost implausible for a highschool student to accomplish. Despite the fact that she failed her exams at Pusan National University twice, she not only did not get removed from the university but also got a scholarship for over six semesters (2016 to 2018). Moreover, she was accepted to Ewha medical school which triggered even more suspicion. Making matters worse, Kuk’s wife was also charged with forgery of administration documents.
During an 11-hour long news conference, Kuk did concede to the aforementioned allegations that his daughter gained unfair advantages in her academics while maintaining that he did not violate any legislation. Within no time, students from all over Korea, including students from Seoul National University, protested against Moon’s decision and Kuk’s corrupt behaviors. Surprisingly, this incident led to a nation-wide candlelight protest against Minister Kuk, which was very similar to that of President Park’s impeachment.
Moon’s presidency centered around the value of fairness and justness, deriving this driving value from Park’s corrupt presidency. Kuk’s scandal, however, proved that inequality still existed within this “just, established” system. Korea was once again was divided: the Democratic Party of Korea (the political party that Kuk is in) had ambivalent responses. Some had criticized Kuk and Moon while others defended him asserting that there are no illegal actions nor does Kuk’s action interfere with his role as the Minister of Justice.
It has only been two years since Park’s presidency of threatening Korea’s democracy, yet Moon also faces massive outrage filled with protesters seeking impeachment. Cho Kuk resigned due to the massive appeal from the protests, but the heated discussion of current president Moon’s qualification still circulates around the political discussion. Was it right for Moon to impart a position to whoever he wants? Should Moon have also issued an apology or even resignation? But, most importantly, should one’s personal scandals be considered when examining his qualifications as a candidate?
I still believe that these are the questions that should be asked in these heated political discussions. However, there is no doubt, unlike the past when corruption silenced the people’s voice, that people are more aware of their democratic rights. Citizens directly protest to their leaders if they see a flaw or exploitation in the system-an indication of a healthy democracy. Still, amends are needed in this current government. Like how President Park’s scandal dissolved into thin air, it will be only a matter of time. In such, we can only hope that this scandal prompted Korea’s democracy to be one step further and learn from its mistakes.
-Mark Park ’20
Featured Image: The Hankyoreh