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The Peninsula

South Korean Government focuses on finding scapegoats

Published June 21, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • On June 7, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission announced it discovered 16 cases of suspicious land transactions involving 12 lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) – potentially suggesting their involvement in a speculation scheme.
  • Although the commission said it was unable to release the DP lawmakers’ names, the DP leadership decided to release their names anyway and asked the lawmakers to voluntarily leave the party.
  • Three lawmakers have claimed innocence and protested the party’s call for them to quit.

Implications: For political expedience, South Korea’s political establishment often resorts to finding scapegoats. The Democratic Party’s decision to ask lawmakers members implicated in the property speculation scandal to resign from the National Assembly came after the party’s defeat in key mayoral elections. This suggests that the party’s response to the ongoing scandal is guided by efforts to regain public trust. This intention was made explicit by a DP spokesperson who stated that “pre-emptive action” was necessary to assuage public outrage over land speculation by public officials. Similarly, the state-owned developer Land & Housing Corp (LH), which is at the heart of this ongoing scandal, preemptively dismissed employees who were suspected of using insider information to engage in land speculation.

Context: The Korean government’s tendency to fall back on scapegoats as a temporary solution to public outcries is not limited to the current ruling party. After the 2014 Sewol Ferry incident, former President Park Geun-hye of the conservative Saenuri Party called for the break-up of the South Korean Coast Guard after her administration faced criticism for its mishandling of the rescue operation. However, the public criticized the administration for passing the blame to the coast guard. Park’s scapegoating also did not address concerns around negligence and corruption that contributed to the disaster.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, and Jina Park. Picture from the flickr account of  J Jongsma

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