When Park Won Soon gave up his lucrative law practice to devote himself to organizing a grassroots crusade against corruption in the mid-1990s, few people paid attention. It seemed futile to challenge South Korea's corrupt but mighty political Establishment. But five years later, Park's civil movement is reshaping Korea's political landscape. Park, 44, is taking on corrupt politicians--and keeping them out of office.
His biggest victory came in the April elections, when voters responded overwhelmingly to his Web site campaign that listed allegedly corrupt candidates. All but one of 20 politicians in Seoul and its vicinity deemed "unfit" by Park's Citizens Solidarity for General Elections were defeated, and 70% of 86 candidates on Park's nationwide list were thrown out of office in districts where reelection is usually a sure thing. Politicians live in fear of being named.
Nearly 1 million Koreans have sent e-mail to the campaign's Web site supporting the effort. "Politicians have been the primary hurdle to reforms, and corruption is the center of the problem," says Park. "Now, we'll step up efforts to monitor and publish lawmakers' activities to shed light on those who are blocking reforms."
An activist in his student days, Park became famous as a human-rights lawyer in the 1980s. As human rights began improving in the 1990s, Park co-founded the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. That group mobilized 900 other civic-action groups, ranging from environmentalists to religious groups, for the election push.
In addition to the Web site, Park's organization has been using the courts to push for reform. Threats of legal action are forcing chaebol to let minority shareholders nominate outside directors to their boards.
Now, both the ruling and opposition parties have pledged tough legislation to combat corruption. "Transparency and accountability must be restored in politics," says Park. These days, even politicians are listening.