|Citizens hold the seventh candlelit rally in Seochon, central Seoul, near Cheong Wa Dae, on Saturday demanding President Park Geun-hye step down immediately, the day after the National Assembly passed a motion to impeach her.|
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Cho Jae-hyon, Choi Ha-young
Why have so many citizens poured out onto the cold streets every Saturday over the last seven weeks? Why are they so angry about President Park Geun-hye whom they themselves elected?
Despite bribery and other allegations against the President, what Park has admitted to so far and apologized for was consulting her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil on state affairs.
The special prosecution team will eventually uncover the truth behind the presidential scandal.
Until she is found guilty of the allegations at trial after being stripped of the presidential post, the President remains innocent ― legally.
However, the people have already handed down a judgment on her. She is no longer their President. Park had her friend Choi, who is nobody, meddle in state affairs and extort millions of dollars from business groups.
Park abused the power given to her by the people. Still, she says she did nothing wrong. She says she sought consultation from her friend with a pure mind and collected money from conglomerates for national interests.
At the mandate of the people, the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a motion to impeach her Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets the next day to celebrate the delivery of their command by the Assembly. More than 7 million people joined the rally during the seven candlelit rallies. They put an end to the ancient regime controlled by the daughter of dictator Park Chung-hee.
|A protester holds a picket sign reading "Impeachment is just a start. Confiscate the fortunes collected wrongfully" at the rally in front of the National Assembly, Friday, after the impeachment passed. / Korea Times photo by Choi Ha-young|
Not end, but new beginning
But they knew it was not the end, but another beginning of a turbulent era.
At the seventh candlelit rally in Gwanghwamun Square, citizens wanted the impeachment to become an impetus for the nation to destroy all the outdated, inefficient governing systems. They called for a complete rebuilding of the nation.
Other than Park's resignation, people commonly pledged to support the fundamental reformation of society and continuous participation in decision-making processes.
"Regardless which party grabs power, they should fight against corruption," said Kim Il-hyung, 44, an office worker who came to the rally with two children.
Kim said the nation's governing system needs an overhaul to reform the judiciary and political system drastically. He said the established judiciary and politicians will have limitations in bringing in such changes.
"I've funded a few politicians. After the scandal, I'm considering creating a grassroots community with friends or neighborhood residents to organize power and make petitions for politicians."
Many other rally participants said they will continue to play a role to help the nation pursue democratic ideals.
"After the impeachment, the Constitutional Court's decision is more important," said a housewife surnamed Yoo, from Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. "Even though Park will never step down voluntarily, we should show our strong will, to justify the court's decision in favor of public opinion. I only knew political heavyweights before. Through this scandal, I got to know some politicians who are trying to deliver our opinions, and I am paying attention to them."
Lee Geun-ah, 27, from Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, emailed Rep. Yoo Eui-dong of the Saenuri Party to urge him to vote in favor of impeachment. "I'll always do that again when I need to," she said.
The incompetence of the political parties encouraged people to participate directly. "The legislative body let me down. They respected the people's will only after millions of people turned out for candlelit rallies," said Im, 31, a teacher from Gyeonggi Province.
Some protesters said they will use local communities for anti-corruption activities.
Cho Jae-myung, 36, from Donghae, Gangwon Province, has organized protests with neighbors. "We don't have a clear plan yet, but we all share in the belief that we need more action for changes."
At the same time, some citizens stressed the need for a more mature citizenship.
"Actually, it's difficult to start to change society, because we've never done it before," said Lee Hyun-joo, 42, who came with a 12-year-old son. "For fundamental change, we may have to change our mindset ― turning our attention from wealth to happiness. People still want to work for top conglomerates, but it's not the happiest life. We can enjoy wellbeing in a healthy society."
Don't stay put, but stay awake!
Underlying the people's fury against Park is the fact she has not yet come clean about her whereabouts during the seven hours on April 16, 2014, when the Sewol ferry was sinking and claimed 304 victims.
Despite all the allegations about what she was doing in the critical hours, she has never explained her whereabouts ― the latest allegation being that she spent 90 minutes having her hair done while hundreds of students were sinking with the ship.
The failure to save the students, while people watched the ship sinking for seven hours broadcast live on television, showed how inefficiently the nation functioned.
Citizens believe those who are responsible for the Sewol disaster have yet to be brought to justice.
"We confirmed the people's power yesterday," said Yoo Kyung-geun, a representative of the Sewol victims and the father of Ye-eun, a student who died in the sinking. "What we should trust is ourselves, and we will inquire into the actual state of the tragedy through the power of the people."
Hwang Gyu-sik, 53, from Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, said, "Finally, we can start a proper investigation into the Sewol ferry disaster. We should revive the Special Investigation Commission on the disaster that Park forced to shut down."
On the stage, the host recited the names of the people who died during the tragedy, including those of nine people whose bodies are still at sea.
"Stay put" was what the captain of the Sewol told the students while the vessel was sinking. The Park administration has tried to prevent further investigation into the disaster.
However, the people refuse to stay put. They will not allow the truth to sink.
"History of cleaning up the past wrongdoers has started," singer Lee Eun-mi said on the stage of the 7th candlelit rally.
"Stay awake!" she shouted.