Madame President

By Chang Semoon Chang Semoon served as professor of economics at the University of South Alabama, U.S.

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to see “Evita” (the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Evita’s name before marriage was Maria Eva Duarte. After her marriage to Juan Peron, she was known as Eva Duarte de Perón, or Evita (little Eva).

The show was magnificent. As a ballroom dancer myself, the dancing in the show was very beautiful and exquisite. When the actress Shereen Pimentel (as Eva) sang “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” early in Act II, only a few in the fully occupied theatre applauded. Like those others in the audience, I was rendered unable to respond and could only sit motionless. I also felt that applause was insufficient to appreciate her performance. Needless to say, the show received a standing ovation with more than one curtain call for Ms. Pimentel at its conclusion.

Note that I am not calling Eva my Madame President. I have someone-else in mind as will be explained later in this article.

Eva was born on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, Argentina. Eva was not a happy girl when young. Her parents were not married, her father had a wife and another family, and her family struggled financially.

When Eva was 15, she traveled to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. Eva attracted the attention of a rising political figure, Colonel Juan Perón. The two married in 1945. Peron was elected President and took office in 1946. Eva was active during the campaign and became very popular among people whom she addressed as los descamisados (“the shirtless ones” in Spanish). Eva was instrumental in carrying out populist policies such as supporting unions, opening new hospitals, schools, orphanages, homes for the aged, passage of the women’s suffrage law, and more.

Eva died of cancer in 1952 at the young age of 33. Eva’s life was the basis of a 1996 movie that starred Madonna. The Lloyd Webber/Rice musical Evita was first mounted in 1979. The “Evita” I enjoyed at the Shakespeare Theatre in October 2023 is the latest version. While I sat enthralled as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was sung, my mind continued to Park Geun-hye — of South Korea. A possible movie and musical depiction of her life story sprang to mind.

Park was born on Feb. 2, 1952, in Daegu, South Korea. She moved with her family to Seoul in the 1950s and grew up in the Blue House, which was the South Korean presidential office. In 1970, she graduated from Sacred Heart Girls’ High School and received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sogang University in 1974.

Unfortunately, that same year on Aug. 15, her mother was killed in a failed assassination attempt against her father, President Park Chunghee. This attack was carried out by a North Korea agent. Geun-hye, at the age of 22, supported her father by stepping into the role of Korea’s first lady. Her father is widely known and respected as the architect of the South Korean “economic miracle.” Tragedy again gripped her life when, on Oct. 26, 1979, her father was killed by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, Kim Jae-kyu.

In 1998, Park Geun-hye ran for election to the National Assembly as a candidate of the conservative Grand National Party. She won by a decisive margin. She was reelected for four more terms as a representative in the National Assembly (1998-2012). Her career suffered a setback in 2007 when she lost the party’s presidential nomination to Lee Myung-bak who was elected as president. In 2011, she was appointed to head the ad hoc “emergency committee” and reformed the Grand National Party into the the Saenuri Party.

In August 2012, the governing Saenuri Party nominated Park its presidential candidate. Her main rival was Moon Jae-in of the leftist Democratic United Party.

In December 2012, Park defeated Moon with a small majority of the popular vote in an election marked by high voter turnout. She took office on Feb. 25, 2013 as the country’s first female president. For about a year, South Korea was in a revival mood. Her performance on the world stage was very effective as well as glamorous.

A disaster struck In April 2014. The ferry Sewol sank with more than 300 students inside. Instead of trying to find the exact cause of the disaster, the Korean political environment led to a political crisis that the opposition party skillfully manipulated. Soon after this disaster, the prime minister resigned. This resignation was followed by the resignations of President Park’s top national security adviser and the director of the National Intelligence Service.

In the summer of 2016, Korea’s largest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported that a member of Park’s administration had been threatening many large companies with the imposition of audits if they did not donate to two charitable foundations that were connected to Choi Soon-sil, who was a close friend of Park. Spurred by the herd mentality of Korean voters, the opposition party began the process of removing her from power. On Dec. 9, 2016, the National Assembly voted to impeach Park. On March 10, 2017, Korea’s Constitutional Court upheld the parliamentary decision, and Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected president to be removed from office.

Park was arrested on March 31. The following month, she was indicted on 18 charges related to abuse of power in her role as president. The most serious charge of bribery carried the possibility of a life sentence if she was found guilty.

On May 9, 2017, the election to determine Park’s successor was held, and her 2012 opponent, Moon won. Two weeks later, Park’s corruption trial began in Seoul. She was held in detention during the trial. On April 6, 2018, Park was found guilty of corruption. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison, and a fine of 18 billion won ($17 million). In July 2018, another trial found Park guilty of the illegal use of government funds and was sentenced to an additional eight years.

The following month, an appellate court ruled that the April 2018 judgment had not considered the full scope of Park’s corruption and her prison sentence was lengthened by one year, and her fine was increased to 20 billion won or nearly $20million. The sentences were to run consecutively, so Park faced a total of 33 years in prison.

She was later granted a retrial and in 2020 her sentence was reduced to 20 years. These sentences were upheld by South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2021. In December 2021, Moon granted a special pardon to Park who was released from prison on Dec. 31.






The Korea Times Co.