Park Guen-Hye was the first female President of South Korea. She may also the first to be spending decades in prison… although history suggests that is unlikely
Guen-Hye was elected in 2013 under the anti-Communist Saenuri Party banner. She had been the leader of the party for two years prior to her rising to the Presidency, and she had wide support throughout the country with the Saenuri holding more than half of the seats of their multi-party Parliamentary body.
In late 2016, she was impeached following revelations of illegal influence peddling. She fought her removal at the country’s Constitutional Court, a high court devoted specifically to addressing points of constitutional order. There were concerns about the court, as members of the panel are supposed to be nonpartisan but are, in part, recommended by sitting Presidents; some of Park Guen-Hye’s political enemies complained that the court was likely to let her off of the charges. Instead, her removal was upheld unanimously.
She was tried on multiple corruption charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors pressed for a retrial, looking for a harsher sentence. They were granted one; following the retrial, she was again found guilty but her sentence was not increased but rather reduced to 20 years, as it was found she did not personally gain from most of her corruption, but rather worked for the gain of her aide Choi Soon-Sil.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld her conviction, ending the appeal process. This cements her prison time at 20 years, except for the traditions of South Korean politics.
Park Guen-Hye is the latest in a long line of South Korean Presidents to be convicted of felonies committed while in office. All of them have received pardons, typically after serving a year or two in prison. As Presidential pardons are commonly dispensed around the Lunar New Year in Korea (February 12, in 2021) it is expected that Moon Jae-In will pardon her in about a month, if she will admit wrongdoing and apologize. Over her two years of incarceration, she has refused to do so. Now that her appeals have ended, she may change her mind.