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  World   Asia  21 Nov 2016  In South Korea, astrologers, cults enter matters of state

In South Korea, astrologers, cults enter matters of state

Published : Nov 21, 2016, 3:51 am IST
Updated : Nov 21, 2016, 6:55 am IST

Choi Soon-Sil is now at the centre of the political storm raging in Seoul.

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold candles during an anti-government protest in central Seoul. (Photo: AFP)
 Demonstrators shout slogans and hold candles during an anti-government protest in central Seoul. (Photo: AFP)

South Korea is currently mesmerised by an unfolding scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, a shady operator Choi Soonsil and her late father Choi Taemin, the founder of an obscure sect called the “Church of Eternal Life”.

Choi Taemin, who died in 1994 was a cult leader and originally a Buddhist monk. He was a mentor to President Park GeunHye and allegedly exploited his contacts with the influential daughter of the then President Park Chunghee to solicit bribes from corporates and officials. Choi apparently cast a spell over a distraught Park Geunhye by convincing that her mother, assassinated in 1974, had appeared to him in dreams, pleading with him to help her daughter.

Choi Taemin was a close associate of former Korean dictator President Park Chunghee. The director of Korean CIA who had assassinated President Park during a drinking session had revealed in the court that one his motives for killing his boss was the President’s failure to stop Choi’s corrupt activities.

In a newspaper interview in 2007, Park Geunhye had called Choi a patriot and said she was grateful for his counsel during her difficult days. Wikileaks has exposed a US embassy cable of 2007 reporting rumours that Choi “a Korean Rasputin” had “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result”.

Choi Soon-sil, daughter of Choi Taemin is now at the centre of the political storm raging in Seoul. Allegedly, the current President Park consulted her regularly on important matters of state sharing even confidential information. This old friend of President Park Geun-hye runs two non-profit foundations that exploited her ties with the President to collect more than $70 million in donations from Korean Chaebols. These include giants Samsung and Hyundai Motors and their top executives have been questioned by the prosecutors. A former presidential aide has confessed that President Park had met corporate honchos in July last year to solicit donations for Choi’s foundations. Korean prosecutors have opened an investigation into the foundations accusing Choi Soonsil of diverting funds for her personal use. Choi has now been arrested. The President of prestigious Women’s EWHA University has had to resign for giving preferential treatment and shady admission to Choi’s daughter.

The Korean public has been totally scandalised by the unfolding story. President Park Geun-hye has tendered tearful public apologies twice on TV. She has fired her entire senior staff and appointed a new Prime Minister. The public expressed its outrage by a million person march on Saturday November 13 demanding her immediate resignation. President Park’s approval rating has plummeted to just five per cent. But President Park has dug in her heels, refused to resign and demanded that prosecutors postpone questioning her and, if at all necessary, do it in writing rather than face to face. Mass protests continued over this weekend, but in an orderly and peaceful manner.

In history the most notorious soothsayer has been Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin belonging to a renegade sect within the Russian Orthodox faith, who believed that the only way to reach God was through sinful actions. In St. Petersburg, Rasputin had entry into the Czarist aristocratic circles. The infant heir to Czar Nicholas had been diagnosed with haemophilia and was prone to excessive bleeding. In desperation, Czarina Alexandra turned to Rasputin for a miracle cure. Inexplicably, Rasputin was able to stop the bleeding on several occasions and both the Czar and Czarina came under his spell. Till his assassination in 1916, Rasputin exercised great influence over matters of state, through his access to the Czar and the regime was greatly tainted by this scandal. Tsar Nicholos lost his throne to the Bolshevik revolution soon after Rasputin’s death.

There have been others in this league. Teflon President Ronald Reagan’s exposure to the paranormal was through First Lady Nancy Reagan’s belief in psychics and astrologers. The White House sought the advice of Joan Quigley, Nancy’s friend and astrologer since 1970s. It is believed that the dates of international summits and important Presidential announcements were determined in consultation with this soothsayer. “I was the Teflon in what is known as the Teflon Presidency” Quigley claimed after the end of President Reagan’s term in office.

In 1975, the then deputy high commissioner to UK, Natwar Singh had arranged a meeting of Chandraswamy with Margaret Thatcher, the then leader of the Conservative Party which was in the Opposition. Mrs Thatcher was impressed by the “Holy Man” and after a few days came to Shri Natwar Singh’s residence in London to meet him. Natwar Singh records in his book Tales from a Diplomatic Past that Chadraswamy predicted that Thatcher will be Prime Minister for 9, 11 or 13 years. Thatcher was Prime Minister of UK from 1979 to 1990, a total of 11 years. But it is not known whether Chandraswamy later exercised any influence on the Iron Lady!

In India, we are familiar with the hold of Dhirendra Brahmachari on Indira Gandhi and Chandraswamy on P.V. Narasimha Rao. Most politicians have their personal astrologers but whether they influence policy is not very well known.

South Korean Presidents have rarely left office in glory. Park Chung-hee was assassinated. Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to death for Gwangju massacre of 1980 but later pardoned and became a Buddhist monk. Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide plagued by accusations of corruption by his family. Last President Lee Myung-bak left office under a cloud of misusing state funds for improvements in his private estate. He has since disappeared from public life. Only the two dogged champions of democracy President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam left office with their reputations intact.

However, despite repeated political turmoil the Korean society continues to advance. The Korean economy continues to grow. The Korean Chaebols continue to be globally competitive. Perhaps, there is some lesson in this for Indian people, political leaders and corporates.

Tags: south korea president, park chunghee