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Former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye Pardoned For Corruption

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South Korea’s disgraced former president Park Geun-hye has been pardoned by her successor, Moon Jae-in, in a special amnesty that could influence voters in a presidential election that is just three months away.

Park has been serving a 22-year sentence following her impeachment in 2017 and conviction for corruption and abuse of power, after a scandal that exposed webs of double-dealing between political leaders and conglomerates.

“We must overcome the pain of the past and move forward into the new era,” said Moon, who was propelled into power in 2017 following public backlash against Park and her conservative party.

“Considering the many challenges we face, national unity and humble inclusiveness are more urgent than anything else,” he said, adding that Park’s deteriorating health had also been a factor.

Park has been hospitalised three times with chronic shoulder and back pain and has undergone surgery once, the Yonhap news agency said.

Park, who will be freed on New Year’s Eve, thanked Moon through an aide. “I express my deep gratitude to president Moon Jae-in and the government authorities who decided to grant amnesty despite many difficulties,” she said.

Her freedom could have a bearing on the 9 March presidential election, given her influence among conservative voters who are expected to back the candidate for the conservative People Power party.

While her release from prison could cause a backlash among liberal voters, it could also divide conservatives, some of whom lost faith in Park during the corruption scandal.

A poll by Gallup Korea in November showed 48% of respondents opposed pardoning Park and another former president, Lee Myung-bak, but the numbers have dropped from around 60% early this year.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the main People Power party candidate in the presidential election, welcomed the pardon while his rival, Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic party, said he understood “Moon’s anguish for national unity”.

But, he added: “A sincere apology from former president Park is needed for the Korean people.”

Moon, who can only serve a single term as president due to term limits, lost to Park in the race for the presidential Blue House in 2012.

Park, the daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, is the country’s first female president, and its first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office after the constitutional court upheld a parliament vote to impeach her in 2017.

She was brought down after being found guilty of colluding with a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to secure tens of millions of dollars of funding from Samsung and other major South Korean companies, and allowing her to influence policy. The money went to foundations run by Choi.

The revelations provoked a wave of anger across the country, sending Park’s approval rating to a record low of 4%.