The Korea Herald


[Kim Ji-hyun] The fate of female political leaders

By 김케빈도현

Published : Nov. 2, 2016 - 15:14

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[TOKYO COLUMN] I cannot say I represent all overseas Koreans, but as one of them, I dare say I am embarrassed out of my mind about “Choi Soon-sil Gate.”

Many of my Japanese friends want to know what’s going on, especially with the Japanese media, where anything negative on Korea is usually amplified, broadcasting President Park Geun-hye’s inappropriate relations with Choi Soon-sil day and night.

But if it’s only about the embarrassment, I can stand it for a few months. If only there were a promise that next time things would be better. There is, however, no such hope at this time. 

There are several aspects of the situation that are making us lose sleep.

First is that while there is a roster of people eyeing the next presidency, it has become impossible to tell whether any of them could stay free from corruption.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Seoul University professor Rep. Ahn Cheol-su, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Moon Jae-in -- former President Roh Moo-hyun’s top protege -- are some of the names being mentioned.

They all have good credentials and are probably decent folks, many with international expertise. But am I the only one who feels that whoever becomes president in this country, all end up succumbing to corruption?

Most recently, it happened to the late President Roh Moo-hyun. Admittedly, he committed far fewer crimes compared to his predecessors and possibly successors, but all the same, he gave into temptation -- or his family and friends did, anyway.

Former President Lee Myung-bak has yet to have any tangible evidence to indict him, but when you look at the presidents before him, it’s easier to describe them as crooks than political leaders.

So the sense of gloom and despair felt at Choi Soon-sil Gate is exacerbated by the thought -- or projection -- that Korea may never see a truly “clean” leader.

Another major concern regarding the future in the wake of President’s Park’s rapid political demise is how this will affect female politicians. In the US, Hilary Clinton is gearing up to become the next president. She has beaten a lot of odds to get this far, and now she just may get to be called American’s first female president.

In Korea, where Confucianism is still firmly rooted, and where even President Park was elected on account of her father and not her own credentials, it remains to be seen if and when another woman will be voted to lead the country.

Already, critics are spewing criticism toward the president’s marital status -- or lack thereof -- saying that if the president had been married, she would not have leaned on religious cult leader Choi Tae-min or his daughter Soon-sil as much.

There are probably many psychological factors that have contributed to Park’s close ties with the ill-fated Choi family, but the fact she is a single woman should not be listed among them. And Korea’s female politicians should not have to be branded as incompetent due to Park’s mistakes.

Overall, it will be up to the next political leader to prove that corruption can and will be eradicated.

As suggested by many before, altering our economic growth strategies may be one option for future leaders to consider.

According to Aki Wakabayashi, head of Transparency International’s Japanese chapter, corruption can become a natural part of society when it depends too much on government-led construction projects to drive economic growth.

Like Korea, Japan has based most of its growth on such projects and as a result, even now, despite that both the central and provincial governments of Japan are both running steep deficits, officials continue to ignore regulations to construct new stadiums and shopping malls.

“This is partly because these officials get donations from the construction firms, and partly because officials are asking the construction firms to employ their family members or others they are close with,” Wakabayashi said.

Hopefully, the latest presidential crisis will become one more lesson learned, and a guide for shaping a more respectable future. 

By Kim Ji-hyun (

The writer is The Korea Herald Tokyo Correspondent.