With the peaceful candlelight protests in 2016, South Korea seemed to have achieved the peak of its democratic form of government after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. However, many allegations against leading politicians for exploiting the education system rose to the surface. As of 2019, the educational scandals are no longer simply about the exploitation of wealth and the system but have turned into a broader debate about the prosecution reform.
As soon as Cho Kuk was nominated by President Moon Jae-in as the Minister of Justice, thousands of articles flooded the news. He was accused of using his background and connections to give her daughter, Cho Min, an incredibly entitled life. His daughter was improperly listed as the primary author of a paper published in a medical journal, and her mother, Mrs. Jung, is accused of forgery on a private document by giving her daughter the highest reward a student can achieve, the President’s Certificate. Furthermore, the opposition party investigated how Cho Min was accepted to a prestigious university in Korea, despite her low English test scores.
“We like to think that if we work hard enough, then we have as equal an opportunity as anyone else to enter the university of our choice and have success in life,” said Dr. Tyvand, mother of two children, a Stanford graduate, and AP Chemistry teacher. “But when we see people going outside that system, it doesn’t feel fair to us, and as parents, we want our children to have the best opportunities, be successful, and be happy.”
As much as it seems like worldwide moral decay, the media has become more explicit in revealing the educational scandals. What started as a harsh tackle against the nomination of Cho Kuk as the Minister of Justice flamed into the Cho Kuk scandal regarding his exploitation of wealth and educational privileges. However, the truth has been revealed that it was just a one-two play by the media and the opposition party to prevent him from pushing for prosecution reform as he took office.
Starting in the 1980s, former President No Mu-Hyun and Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer, demanded the establishment of an Independent Investigative Organization, which would serve to reform the prosecution and divide the power that prosecution has by giving the rights of charge to not only the prosecuting attorneys but also to the defense attorney and the judge as well, minimizing the motivations for corruption. The huge significance of this reform movement is to create a clean slate after the past 9 years of corruption under former Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. President Moon hopes to push further for the establishment of this organization with Cho Kuk as the new Minister of Justice but has met huge backlash from the opposition party. If this organization is established, then the past atrocity and brutality of the opposition party and the prosecution would be unveiled, reflecting how the opposition and media attempt to tackle him in every way possible by accusing him of such allegations.
At first, due to the Cho Kuk scandal, anger from university students has taken the nation by storm. A survey of some 1,800 Seoul National University students, conducted by the online student community SNULife and released on Aug. 26, found that 95% of students thought Cho was “not fit for the position of Minister of Justice at all.” However, once it was revealed that the media and opposition were picking on extremely small factors that were told in a way to make the public angry, these students also have joined the call for prosecution reform.
In Korea, there is a type of illegal custom that exists, but it happens very commonly and is not a crime-worthy practice. For example, the false registration of one’s address to enter a school in a different neighborhood is illegal, but it happens often and nobody gets charged. Similarly, listing such a primary author was also considered a type of custom that is not a crime-worthy action. However, the opposition party framed the Cho Kuk scandal as educational exploitation. Secondly, Cho Min’s English test scores during high school were between Levels 4 and 6 with Level 1 being the highest. However, she also received 5s for three AP tests. A student from her school reported that someone’s English test at a Korean high school doesn’t fully present how good or how bad their English is. Not only the false allegations begin to reveal the truth, but also the opposition party’s compunction action toward Cho Kuk’s family angered the public. While the police officers searched the Samsung President’s gigantic house for only two hours and came out with one USB, the police officers hired by the opposition party searched Cho Kuk’s middle-size apartment for 11 hours and came out with two big blue boxes and even disrespectfully ate delivery food at his house.
While the media and the opposition party frame the Cho Kuk scandal as merely an issue of wealth and educational corruption, the truth was uncovered and the scandal was manipulated politically to use it against him while he attempts to reveal the corruption within Korea’s political system. Now, the public also demands prosecution reform, which makes the issue much more complex. On Sept. 18, an estimated number of 2 million people gathered by candlelight in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office with one voice to reform the prosecution and protect Cho Kuk. Even the SNU students who first harshly criticized Cho Kuk joined, after recognizing the exaggeration and false accusations from the media and opposition party. The people chanted with paper signs of “Go away political prosecutor,” “Investigate the Korea Liberty Party,” and “Let’s reform the prosecution.”