Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female President was dismissed from office by the Constitutional Court, after being impeached by Parliament. She joins a short list of heads of state dismissed during their term, next to the last president who suffered such a fate: Brazil’s first female President, Dilma Rousseff.
During the last three decades, dozens of female politicians have become prime-ministers or presidents, in what was formerly a men’s world. This gave hope that the misogyny and sexism of the past are gone, and female politicians are treated the same as male politicians. Yet, looking at the short history of impeachment procedures against sitting presidents, something interesting comes up: female politicians are more likely to end up dismissed than their male counterparts.
Park Geun Hye wasn’t the first president of South Korea to be impeached: the same happened to Roh Moo-hyun, the president of South Korea between 2003 and 2008, who was impeached in 2004, but was restored to his position by the Constitutional Court. Other famous cases of male politicians who survived impeachment procedures are Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, and Traian Băsescu, former president of Romania, who was twice impeached, only to be returned to his office, by popular or judicial will.
Back in 2012, Traian Băsescu, who used to be one of the most beloved presidents of Romania, was suspended by a simple majority in Parliament. But Băsescu’s fate had to be decided by a popular referendum. Băsescu had already survived a previous impeachment attempt, in 2007, winning the popular vote in a landslide. But this time, his popularity was dismal because of the austerity measures he implemented after the Great Recession. But the Romanian president had a trump – the constitutional card that he played brilliantly. Although the Romanian people overwhelmingly voted to impeach Băsescu, as his supporters boycotted the referendum, and people later took to the streets to protest against him, Băsescu survied, thanks to the Constitutional Court that ruled the referendum invalid, because the legal turnout wasn’t met. Some judges disagreed with the decisions, as Băsescu’s opponents claimed that the turnout should be calculated using the new census data, instead of the old voting files. Even though a legal technicality saved him, Băsescu lost his legitimacy, yet he remained on his feet, refusing to resign. Apart from being helped by the Romanian Constitution and backed by the most influent leaders of the EU, like Angela Merkel, Băsescu is a man.
Moving East towards Asia, we find an interesting parallel in South Korea, where the president elected in 2012 was dismissed because her closest friend, Choi Soon-sil, used influence peddling to get funds from South Korean chaebol companies, like Samsung, for some NGOs coordinated by Choi. It was the sparkle that the opposition party was looking for such a long time, to burst into flames the presidential chair of Park. But for South Korea it wasn’t the first time when it impeached a president, because a decade ago, Roh Moo-hyun, the 9th president of ROK, faced a situation similar to that of Park Geun-hye. But Roh Moo-hyun was a man. The Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment and he was reinstalled, even if the opposition party impeached him for violating the Constitution, because during his term, he created a new political party. It might have been a big culpa, because during the presidential term, a president must not have any political links with any party. Another great difference, apart from gender, is the percent of approval rating of Park (4%) versus Roh (30%). The Constitutional Court, which had a lot of latitude to decide, welcomed back Roh, although he too committed an abuse and violated the Constitution. Meanwhile, Park, as a woman, didn’t have so much luck.