31 March, 2017
South Koreans are thinking about electing the country's next leader after the arrest of former President Park Geun-hye.
Park is the first democratically elected president of South Korea to be ousted from office. She was sent to jail early Friday. Her detention began after a court approved a warrant calling for her arrest. She is accused of bribery, extortion and abuse of power.
The charges against Park are linked to the series of events that forced her from office.
Government lawyers believe that Park and a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, pressured businesses to make donations to two organizations they controlled. They say South Korean companies gave over $69 million to the two groups.
South Koreans were divided for months as lawmakers considered the case against the president. Park's opponents held large protests calling for her ouster or resignation. Her supporters organized demonstrations to try to keep her in office.
South Korean conservatives express regret
But in Seoul on Friday, no one celebrated Park's arrest, and there were no angry groups of Park supporters demanding her release.
A pro-Park gathering is expected this weekend, but her party, the Liberty Korea Party, seems to want to distance itself from its former leader.
In a statement, the party's spokesman called Park's arrest "regrettable." He said "We hope such a painful history of arrest of a former president will not repeat itself in South Korea."
An election for a new president will take place on May 9th.
After Park's removal from office, many South Koreans have seemingly turned against conservative politicians. They blamed Park's policies for increasing tensions with China and with North Korea over its weapons program.
Chinese officials are angry about Park's decision to accept an American anti-missile system.
The Liberty Korea Party has been struggling to find a strong candidate for president. South Gyeongsang Province Governor Hong Joon-pyo is said to be a leading candidate. But his public approval rating in a recent Gallup Organization survey was just four percent.
The Bareun Party was once part of the Liberty Korea Party. In a statement, Bareun said it respects the Supreme Court's decision against Park. But the party questioned whether her arrest was necessary. It said the arrest harmed efforts to heal divisions within the country.
Yoo Seung Min -- the Bareun party's candidate for president -- has a two percent approval rating in the Gallup opinion poll.
Victory for South Korea's liberals
The liberal Democratic Party of Korea had called Park's removal from office a triumph of democracy. It also called her arrest a victory for the rule of law.
The party's spokesman said "Considering the fairness of law and principles, the arrest of former President Park is an obvious conclusion."
Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in has a 31 percent approval rating in the latest poll. That is more than any candidate for president.
Ahn Cheol-soo – the leading candidate for the centrist People's Party -- has a 19 percent approval rating in the poll. In a statement, Ahn said Park's arrest, "is of her own making because she repeatedly gave false explanations without expressing apologies or regrets."
Park says she is innocent. She has yet to talk publicly about the charges. But after agreeing to cooperate with the government, she was questioned by investigators for 14 hours.
Park can be held in prison for up to 20 days while she is being investigated. During this time, she must be charged or released. Her lawyers say she will not leave the country. But the Seoul Central District Court judge in charge of the case ordered her arrest, possibly concerned that she might destroy evidence.
Park could be sent to prison for 10 years on charges of accepting bribes from heads of large South Korean companies in exchange for favors. The business chiefs include Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee. He denies charges that he provided bribes in exchange for special treatment.
I'm John Russell.
And I'm Caty Weaver.
VOA Correspondent Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul. Youmi Kim contributed to the report. John Smith adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
bribe – v. to try to get someone to do something by giving or promising something valuable (such as money); to give or offer a bribe to (someone)
extort – v. to get (something, such as money) from a person by the use of force or threats
poll – n. an activity in which several or many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to get information about what most people think about something
triumph – n. a great or important victory; a great success or achievement
favor – n. a kind or helpful act that you do for someone