|Protesters hold up candles calling for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye, who allegedly helped her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs, as police officers stand in front of them at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Saturday. / Yonhap|
By Kim Bo-eun
The candlelit protests have proved that people's voice matters in democracy.
Over the course of five weeks, the rallies ― from the first on Oct. 29 to the most recent last Saturday ― have exerted influence on politics and the prosecution's investigation of the scandal.
In early stages, protesters mainly called for proper investigations to reveal the truth behind the massive scandal, but voices gradually started calling for President Park Geun-hye to step down for the nation's biggest influence-peddling scandal.
After the scandal broke out, Park delivered two nationally televised apologies, but her explanation has only increased suspicions and fueled public anger.
The people's angry voices became louder as the scale of the rallies grew nationwide, from the 50,000 on Oct. 29 to 1 million on Nov. 12 and to 1.9 million last Saturday.
Unlike previous rallies, which were led by civic activists, people of all walks of life ― young and old, progressive and conservative ― convened for a common purpose.
Parents bringing their young children in strollers, teenage students in uniforms, college students, office workers and labor union members collectively demanded for the President's resignation. And instead of metal pipes, ropes and water cannons, protestors held candles and stickers of flowers.
|A man wearing a "V for Vendetta" mask joins other protesters gathered at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, Saturday. The 2006 dystopian political thriller has been described by several media outlets as having an allegorical relation to the nation's current political fiasco. The idea began to surface when the anti-Park rallies grew bigger nationwide.|
Gwanghwamun in Korean is written on the street, the place that has become the Mecca for the historic candlelit rallies.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
At first, it was unclear how the prosecution, whose chief is appointed by the President, would deal with the scandal actively and fairly. At initial stages, it remained passive in summoning Choi and other key figures including Park's former aides. But as the number of candles grew, it started taking a hard-line stance ― last week it cited the President as an accomplice and "criminal suspect" in allegedly extorting money from conglomerates to benefit Choi and leaking state files to her. It is also pressing Park to be questioned face-to-face.
The public sentiment has also moved politicians. The National Assembly passed the bill for an independent counsel and parliamentary investigation. The opposition parties have sought a motion to impeach the President, and dozens of members of the ruling party joined in the move, raising the likelihood of earning two thirds of the Assembly's votes to pass the motion.
"Civic protests have led the Assembly movement for impeachment," said sociology professor Roh Jin-chul at Kyungpook National University. "However, it appears the people need to step up the protests in order to move the President who is not budging."
Park's approval rating hit a record low at 4 percent, according to Gallop Korea's latest survey last week. Yet it seems she does not take the 96 percent of people's voice seriously enough.
The millions of candles are the very reminder of the Article 1 of the Constitution: "The Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic. The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people."