Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on May 22, 2009
Former South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun’s suicide on May 23 is a vivid reminder that the country has a long way to go to reach political maturity. True, Korea is an example in the modern history of development: it achieved economic prosperity and democracy in a generation. Yet, politicians leading the country still brawl in parliament, with emotional outbursts often setting tones in sessions called to decide on national agendas.
Roh was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital after falling from a rock while hiking and leaving a note to his family. A human rights lawyer, Roh took office in 2003 vowing to fight corruption during his five-year term, but his death came amid a bribery probe over a payment worth just over $1 million to his wife from a wealthy businessman while he was still in office. The businessman was also accused of bribing Roh’s close associates.
Weeks before his death, Roh publicly apologized for his family’s involvement in a corruption probe but has not admitted to personal wrongdoing. Roh, 62, was Korea’s third former president to be questioned by state prosecutors after Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, who were both convicted in 1995 of receiving bribes and inciting mutiny.
By the time he left office in 2008, Roh had become deeply unpopular and was succeeded by a conservative former businessman, Lee Myung Bak. Roh was largely credited for running a cleaner government but admitted that his wife had taken money. State prosecutors in the past months have been leaking details of suspicions centering Roh’s family and close associates, the move Roh supporters have described as political vendetta by the conservatives.