Seoul, relations with shamans inflame the election campaign
An enquiry has been opened into conservative candidate Yoon, who has been accused of favouritism towards a religious sect linked to a shaman close to him. The precedent set by former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office for allowing a mystic to interfere in state affairs, has taken a heavy toll.
Seoul (AsiaNews) - In a little over a month's time, on March 9th, South Korea will go to the polls to elect a new president, in what some commentators have dubbed "unpleasant elections". The atmosphere in which the election campaign is being held has been degraded by countless personal attacks, while the main candidates have failed to capture public immagination in terms of popularity in the polls. Against this decidedly unattractive backdrop for voters, the re-emergence of links between politics and shamanism is of great concern to the South Korean public.
After revelations by a local newspaper, Seoul's public prosecutors opened an investigation into conservative candidate Yoon Seok-youl in recent weeks. The accusations date back to February 2020, when South Korea was experiencing the first wave of Covid infections due to an outbreak within the Shincheonji religious sect. Yoon, who was the attorney general at the time, allegedly prevented the police from carrying out a search at the sect's headquarters on the advice of a certain Jeon, a shaman who is said to have had extensive relations with Yoon.
The candidate and the Conservative Party have denied the accusations, but the relationship between Yoon and Jeon is much deeper than initially admitted. In early January, the conservative campaign committee had to disolve its own subcommittee after a video emerged in which Jeon could be seen amicably guiding Yoon to meet members of the subcommittee, despite the fact that the shaman had no official position in the campaign. To avoid suspicion that the mystic might appear as a shadow adviser to the candidate, the Conservative Party therefore decided to dissolve the subcommittee.
According to some elements, Yoon's relationship with shamanism is not even a recent event. A business card from Yoon's wife's company dating back to 2014 listed Jeon's name as a consultant. Moreover, the conservative candidate has already admitted to having had meetings with other mystics. Suspicions about Yoon's associations with mystics had already emerged during the Conservative Party primaries last autumn, when the former prosecutor (then leading the race for the nomination) appeared in a TV debate with the Chinese character 'king' painted on his palm, which many interpreted as a talisman.
Links with shamanism are a very sensitive topic, especially after the scandal that rocked South Korean politics in 2016-2017. On that occasion, the former conservative president Park Geun-hye was dismissed for allowing Choi Soon-sil, her confidante and daughter of a prominent Korean mystic, to meddle in state affairs.
Yet shamanism has been an element of South Korean politics since the period of democratisation, although its presence has often remained below the surface. Democratic candidate Lee Jae-myung's election campaign in early January launched a committee of 17 religious figures. For many decades, Seoul's political elites have had links with traditional shamanism in Korean culture, and the only difference this time is that these links are at the centre of public debate.