SEOUL – On the same day a gob-smacked world learned that Suga, a member of the mega-group BTS, had come down with Covid-19, one of the most dramatic political-judicial episodes in the history of South Korea was concluded.

Park Geun-hye, 69, the former South Korean president who was impeached, thrown out of office and jailed against a backdrop of incendiary political fireworks in 2017, was pardoned on Friday amid a fraught national election campaign.

Her upcoming release – part of a customary New Year’s Eve pardon program that, this year, included 3,094 beneficiaries – surprised most with its timing but was hardly unexpected. Multiple disgraced high-profile figures, from ex-presidents to corporate tycoons, have benefitted from similar pardons in the past.

Even in a democracy noted for lively politics, the downfall of the conservative Park was spectacular. It came in the wake of a spiraling scandal that sucked in multiple ministers, officials and the de facto head of Samsung, galvanizing the nation and leading to million-person candle-lit demonstrations in central Seoul in 2016.