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The Sudden Death of the Mayor of Seoul

Mayor Park Won Soon had a stellar CV. He had been Mayor of Seoul since 2011 getting reelected twice. Before that, he was a human rights lawyer and had worked with fellow lawyers former President Roh Moon-hyun and current President Moon Jae-in.

His clients included political activists and victims of sexual abuse. But then last week he was accused of sexual harassment himself. He suddenly disappeared leaving a suicide note for his family. Later his body was found in the woods of Bugak mountain which is near the President’s residence, The Blue House. 

There was a public funeral for him this week. But it was controversial as some say he should not have been honoured with a public funeral with these allegations against him.

On the other hand, his supporters have criticised the alleged victim, a former secretary, and accused her of lying.

But the problem is that although the allegations remain, by law there can be no investigation. So it seems there is stalemate: His reputation remains tainted and he can’t clear his name whilst the victim’s allegations remain in doubt with no chance for her to prove her case.

Picture: City Hall, Seoul


Since 2018 the #metoo movement in Korea has encouraged more victims of sexual abuse to come forward. There have been several high profile political cases. Recently the Mayor of Busan resigned after allegations of sexual harassment.

The Arts have also seen lots of scandals. One notable case was internationally renowned poet Ko Un who could have got a Nobel prize in literature. Instead he got his work removed from school textbooks!

related posts on feminism

A look into a feminist novel Kim Ji Young Born 1982
Film Review: Kim Ji Young Born 1982
book review: The Vegetarian


Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world. And I’ve written about this topic before in How are Suicide and Status Anxiety related in Korea? with notes from the book Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

But I think the really shocking part of this story is the speed of the mayor’s demise. One day everything seemed fine. But the very day after the secretary contacted the police, the mayor was gone. There was no formal investigation. And no denial or resignation.

There had been talk of him standing in the upcoming 2022 presidential elections. Of course that would have been impossible after a scandal like this.

But looking back over recent years, the last few presidents have not fared well. Two are in prison and one took his own life:
President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008)

Former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008) was unusual as he didn’t go to university but passed the bar exam to become a lawyer. His reputation took a hit during a high-profile corruption investigation into his family. And the scandal was too much for him and he jumped to his death from a mountain cliff in 2009.

The Attorney is a film about Roh Moon-hyun when he was a lawyer.
Our President is a documentary about life of Roh Moo-hyun 

Lee Myung-bak (2008 – 2013)

Conservative Lee Myung-bak had also been Mayor of Seoul before becoming president. He was the first president from a business background. But he is now in prison for receiving bribes, sentenced to 15 years. 

Park Geun-hye (2013-2017 impeachment)

Park Geun-hye became the first female president in 2013. Nostalgic hopes were high as she was the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee who had led Korea to fast economic success through the 1970s.

But then all sorts of shenanigans were exposed with her relationship with cult leader’s daughter Choi Sun Sil. This lead to her impeachment in 2017. She is now in prison serving a sentence of 33 years.

Related Posts:

Book Review: Park Chung Hee From Poverty to Power
What has changed over 30 years of Democracy in Korea?
What was the lead up to the impeachment of Park Gun Hye?

Moon Jae-in (2018-2023)  

Moon Jae-in has had good ratings due to the successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But opinions on his handling of the economy and North Korea are divided though. And his fate still remains to be seen…

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