The purpose of this paper is to introduce and analyze the short-term and long-term causes of the candlelight demonstrations and the ensuing presidential impeachment in South Korea, as well as the characteristics of the organization that planned the candlelight demonstrations and the participants of them.
The research is based on the previous literature, news articles, as well as various surveys on the randomly selected participants of the demonstrations and on a representative sample of Korean electorate, including non-participants as well.
The candlelight demonstrations, although “triggered” by a news report, would not have occurred, without angers and discontents accumulated over the president’s whole term by the irregularities and wrongdoings of the administration. The system of checks and balances in democratic system did not work properly. In that regard, the candlelight demonstrations and the ensuing presidential impeachment were just an unanticipated expression of the problems and defects built in the Korean democratic system of 1987, which would have found a way out in any form eventually.
Based on the analysis of the candlelight demonstrations and the ensuing presidential impeachment, the paper suggests instructive implications on a new democracy as well as on modern representative democracies that are in jeopardy now.
Kang, S.-G. (2019), "Candlelight demonstrations and the presidential impeachment in South Korea: An evaluation of the 30 years of democracy", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 256-267. https://doi.org/10.1108/AEDS-01-2018-0008Download as .RIS
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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited
In October 2017, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, one of the oldest political foundations in Germany, announced that the year’s Human Rights Award would be given to a total of 17m Korean people who participated in the candlelight demonstrations that lasted all the Winter of 2016–2017 (The Korea Herald, 2017). After the news that a close “friend” of the President Park had intervened in a number of political decisions and taken advantages of it while having no official position in government was broadcasted in October 2016, South Korean citizens started to pour into the streets and demand the resignation of the president in every weekend nights, with a candlelight in hands. The weekly demonstrations lasted all Winter and a total of 17m people participated in them voluntarily, but no serious violence took place. The demonstrations were massive but peaceful. Finally, the Korean National Assembly, overwhelmed by the demand of the millions of people, passed the motion to impeach the president on December 9, 2016, and President Park was forced out of office on March 10, 2017 when the Constitutional Court upheld the Assembly’s decision with a unanimous verdict. The Court’s decision also ended the series of weekly candlelight demonstrations, which was by then the 20th round. By the electoral law, a new president must be elected to fill the vacancy within 60 days after the ruling. Therefore, the 19th Presidential election was held on May 9, 2017, which was about seven months ahead of the originally scheduled election date.
“The peaceful exercise of democratic participation and in particular the civic right of peaceful assembly are the essential components of democracy. In our view, the people’s candlelight demonstrations have given the whole world evidence of this important fact.” This is the remark made by the resident director of the Stiftung’s (Foundation’s) Korea branch at the press briefing to explain the awardee decision (The Korea Herald, 2017). The massive but peaceful candlelight demonstrations and the ensuing impeachment of the incumbent president abided by the existing laws and procedures can be perceived as a victory of democracy and people, at least for those who were on one side of the streets. However, the very fact that millions of people could not wait for several months for a more institutionalized opportunity to show their discontent – i.e. election – to come, took to the streets and demanded immediate restoration of democratic order suggests rather clearly that the seemingly stable and consolidated democracy in Korea has hidden serious defects and weaknesses as well.
Indeed, 2017 was the 30th year since the democratization in 1987, when the authoritarian regime finally yielded to the demand of the people and agreed to amend the constitution to elect a new president directly. Although an heir of the outgoing authoritarian regime, Roh Tae-woo, was elected directly in the first democratic presidential election under the new constitution of 1987, the same electoral rule allowed a turnover of government power to the longtime opposition leader, Kim Dae-jung in 1997. Koreans observed another transfer of government power again in 2007 when the conservative – then opposition – candidate, Lee Myung-bak won the 17th presidential election. That is, South Korean democracy already passed the famous “two turnover test” of democratic consolidation (Huntington, 1991, pp. 266-267).
For the last 30 years, a new democracy in South Korea seemed to have become stabilized, consolidated and even matured. However, the candlelight demonstrations, the background that motivated them, and the operation of the former President Park’s administration uncovered in the investigations after the impeachment revealed a naked nature of 30 years of democracy in Korea. It has been rotten inside beneath a sound appearance. The candlelight demonstrations and the following series of political events were like an evaluation test, and the Korean democracy barely passed the test by a very narrow margin. The only reason that it might not be a failure would be that the democratic order was finally restored by the power of people in a peaceful manner, abided by the existing laws and procedures. In this sense, the series of events suggest some self-recovery capability of democracy. But it is hard to deny that it is a tragedy that a democratically elected president was removed from office during the term, even in a constitutionally guaranteed way. In a better democracy, we would have avoided an election of such a figure. Even when we failed to do so, well-functioning mechanisms of checks and balances would have prevented from abusing the government power in such an arbitrary and self-destructive way such as extorting bribes from business corporations.
In order not to repeat – and/or for a fledgling democracy not to follow – the tragedy, we must learn from the precedents. This is the goal of this paper. In the following, we will first present the unfolding of events that preceded the candlelight demonstrations in the Winter of 2016–2017, focusing on the immediate – short-term – causes of them. Then we will move to introduce and examine the characteristics of the candlelight demonstrations, focusing on their organizations and the participants. Finally, we will conclude the paper with a discussion on the implications of this series of political events on a new democracy as well as on modern representative democracies as a whole.
The beginning of candlelight demonstrations
The first candlelight demonstration was held on October 29, 2016, the first Saturday night after a private cable broadcasting company, JTBC, reported a news that Choi Soon-sil reviewed and even modified several important public and diplomatic speeches before they were officially delivered, based on the analyses of the tablet PC found in the abandoned office of Choi. However, it should be worth noting that this is not the first time that South Koreans heard the name of Choi, nor the first time that they encountered irregular, weird, incomprehensible behaviors of the Park’s administration through media.
Although it is still difficult – and we do not think it is possible – to pinpoint when and what started the falling, the signs of falling began to surface from the very beginning of, and throughout, President Park’s whole time in office. At first, the head of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office (SPO), who directed the investigations on the manipulation of public opinion through the internet by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the campaign period of the 18th presidential election in 2012 and permitted the indictment of several public officials – including the head of the NIS – on the charge of violation of the electoral law that prohibits intervention by the public officials in elections, was forced to resign in September 2013 for the dubious reason that he had an extramarital child. After his resignation, a further investigation faced rough going, and the indicted officials were acquitted at the district court, at least for the charge of the violation of the electoral law. Despite the acquittal, the democratic legitimacy of the Park’s administration was under serious suspicion for many South Koreans from the beginning.
Indeed, the suspicion of foul play in election and the doubtful resignation of the head of the SPO was just a starter. During her tenure, no one year had passed without serious incidents that made the public suspicious about her ability to lead the country and her will to do so, such as the sinking of Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014 and the outbreak of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in May 2015, to name but a few. These incidents, one by one, accumulated angers and discontents toward the President Park and her administration. The heavy loss of her party in the 20th National Assembly election on April 13, 2016 was one of the signals that she was losing support in the public as well as within her own party.
In the election, the president’s party, Saenuri won 38.3 percent of district votes (5 percent less, compared to the previous result in 2012) and 33.5 percent of party list votes (9.3 percent less). Thus, it lost a majority as well as the largest party status in the National Assembly by winning 122 seats out of 300 (30 seats smaller), next to the Democratic Party of Korea, which won 123 seats. In addition to the incidents and the administration’s inability just mentioned, the internal conflict over the candidate selection within the Saenuri party was also pointed out as a cause of the party’s electoral loss. The faction loyal to President Park (pro-Park), which controlled the chairmanship of the candidate selection committee, tried to decide selection for their own sake and it brought severe resistance from other members (aka, non-Park). Finally, the party could not nominate candidates in three Youngnam electoral districts, a stronghold of the party, because the party chairman, one of the leaders of non-Park group, refused to authorize the nomination at the last minute, after he showed up from the disappearance as a gesture of discontent.
The election loss also signaled the beginning of her lame-duck session. It was about this lame-duck season when the name of Choi Soon-sil began to be mentioned frequently by the news media. Starting from July 26, 2016 and for the following few weeks, TV Chosun, a subsidiary cable broadcasting company of one of the most influential newspapers in Korea, Chosunilbo, reported exclusive coverage on the setting up of two – the Mir and the K-sports – foundations. According to the reports, the two foundations were established based on 77.4bn KRW (roughly $72.3m) contributions from the Chaebols – South Korean business conglomerates – on the demand of the president’s head secretary on economy. Although the report of TV Chosun did not mention the name of Choi directly, it clearly suggested the existence of someone who was involved in the setting up and running of the two foundations behind the scene with a close connection to the president. It was strange and ironical that TV Chosun was the first news company raising this suspicion, because TV Chosun and its mother corporation, Chosunilbo, were one of the most hardline conservatives in the ideological spectrum of Korea and, hence, one of the most ardent supporters of Park against the progressive candidate, Moon Jae-in in the 18th presidential election of 2012. Therefore, it suggested an internal division within the conservative groups in the Korean politics and society.
The name of Choi Soon-sil was finally known to the public as a progressive newspaper, Hankyoreh, pointed out her as the one behind the scene in an exclusive report on September 20, 2016 (Hankyoreh, 2017). After this, news reports on Choi Soon-sil and suspicions of her involvement in government affairs began to pour like an explosion. Among the many suspicions, the illegitimate admission of Choi’s daughter – an equestrian athlete – to Ewha Womans University got a special attention from the public, because South Koreans have been known to be very sensitive on the issue related to their children’s university admissions. The suspicion was that the university changed its admission criteria to admit Choi’s daughter whose grades apparently were not good enough in return of the university’s selection of several government projects with large financial benefits.
The people were getting more furious over the series of reports and suspicions and their fury was directed to the president who let this happen. The JTBC report was broken out in these circumstances. Editing of speeches might not be so serious a problem compared to the other issues, as President Park tried to make an excuse in the press briefing on the next day. What differed the JTBC report from the others, however, was that it came with real, hard evidence, for the first time since the suspicions started to arise. With this report, people became to think that all the suspicions and allegations regarding the relationship between Park and Choi might be true. The following figures show the trends of quarterly averages of the presidential approval rating from the second quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2016 (Figure 1(a)) and the weekly presidential approval rating from the first week of September to the fourth week of November in 2016 (Figure 1(b)). The figures show that the presidential approval rating, which was – although declining – still maintained at above 30 percent level, despite all the irregularities and incomprehensible behaviors of the administration and related suspicions, precipitated to one digit level after the report on October 24, 2016. In this sense, the report was a “trigger” of the following upheavals, including the candlelight demonstrations as well as the impeachment. But we should not eliminate irregularities, wrongdoings of the administration, people’s suspicions and fury accumulated over the previous years from the list of the causes.
The candlelight demonstrations: their organization and the participants
The first candlelight demonstration was organized by a group called “the Protest Headquarter for Popular Uprising,” which was an association of 53 civil groups, trade unions and student organizations. It was launched in November 2015 and organized demonstrations against the Park’s administration and its neo-conservative economic policies in non-regular intervals since then. The association was preparing for another demonstration on November 12, 2016. Because of the simple reason that it was planning a demonstration two weeks later, the association took the lead by changing the schedule hastily, realizing the urgency of the situation and the rising public demand (Lee et al., 2017).
However, it appears that the association did not anticipate that the demonstration that they organized in such a hurried way would become the starter of a long lasting – about five months – series of a total of 20 weekly candlelight demonstrations, given that the title of the demonstration that the association used to inform the public and the police was not numbered. After the first demonstration, observing the participation size of approximately 50,000 (estimate by the organizer) and their demand and anger, the leaders of civil society quickly agreed to build a new and more encompassing association, called the Emergency Nationwide Action for the Resignation of Park Geun-Hye (the “Action”, hereafter), including more than 1,553 civic groups, and the Action took the role of organizer from the second. The rest of the candlelight demonstrations organized by the Action were serially numbered, suggesting a more systemized attempt to continue the protest.
Table I shows the dates and sizes of the 20 candlelight demonstrations. At first, we can find big differences between the police estimates and the Action’s, regarding the sizes. Besides the apparent differences in the intentions of making such estimates, there is also another reason for the differences. That is, the police estimate measured the maximum number of persons at a single time point of the whole duration of the demonstration. The police estimate reflects the necessity of deploying the force efficiently to maintain order. To the contrary, the Action’s estimate measured the total number of persons who showed up at different times and stayed for different timespans in the demonstrations. Even if we account for these differences in numbers and their way of calculating them, it is still hard to deny that the demonstrations were a massive protest movement suggesting widespread disapproval of President Park in Korean society. The biggest size was recorded on December 3, when it was known that there would be the vote on the impeachment in the National Assembly on December 9. The count of 2.32m of the participants’ size was a new record including those of the 30 years ago, i.e. the June Democratic Uprising of 1987.
According to the table, a total of 16.6m of people participated in the demonstrations accumulatively. To be clear, it does not mean that 33 percent of nationals out of 50m population participated because of those who showed up repeatedly in the weekly demonstrations. However, according to a survey on a representative sample of Korean electorate with a size of 1, 200 undertaken in December 2016, 23.9 percent of respondents replied that they participated in the demonstrations (Lee et al., 2017). Other research based on different surveys – thus, different samples – report similar results, for example Kim (2017) and Min and Yun (2019). An interesting finding in Lee et al. (2017) is that they did not find big differences between the participants and ;non-participants in terms of demographic as well as socio-economic characteristics other than the fact that the respondents of 60s and older were not likely to participate in the demonstrations. Moreover, most of those non-participants answered that they wanted to but were unable to participate because of the time and personal situations to the question of asking the reasons for non-participation. It suggests that the participants were not a special but ordinary citizen and that the pool of potential participants and sympathizers was much larger than the actual participants.
A fact that is not well revealed in the sheer number of participants is about how they participated. According to a survey on 2,058 participants randomly selected in the 5th demonstration on November 16, 80.5 percent of respondents answered that they showed up voluntarily on their own decision after hearing the news. To the question of “who did you come with?” 49.9 percent of respondents chose “friend or co-worker,” 32.2 percent “family member” as their companion. Of them, 13.4 percent said they came alone. Only 2.5 percent chose “with members of party/trade union/civic groups” (Lee et al., 2017). That is, most of them participated voluntarily with a small affinity group of size 2, 3 or 4. With this respect, although we have identified the Action as an “organizer” of candlelight demonstrations, it would be misleading to take that as it means “the Action lead or mobilize the demonstrations” in a traditional sense. The Action did not push a strong political agenda, nor to try to form a collective identity as we usually observed in previous collective actions (e.g. Ostrom, 1990; Wade, 1994; Carty and Onyett, 2006). All it did was to provide a space by getting a necessary permission from the authority and some necessary minimal tasks required for a large-scale protest movement, like placing personnel to maintain the order, setting up the stage for free speech and performance, collecting contributions for the next gatherings, etc. The voluntary citizens filled the rest. That is, the Action remained faithful to the role of the periphery, accepting the nature of diverse backgrounds and weak ties among the participants (Bennett and Segerberg, 2012; Min and Yun, 2019).
It appears that what united the citizens with diverse backgrounds was the anger – more precisely, the feeling of indignation – with Park Geun-hye and the way her administration worked, accumulated over the previous years and finally found a way out in the presence of hard evidence. To the request of rating their anger on a 11-point scale, where 0 means “none,” 5 “manageable,” and 10 “extreme,” in a survey of 2,058 participants, 90.9 percent of them chose 8 or higher. That is, they were infuriated with the newly substantiated suspicion that it was Choi who actually ruled the country, although they voted for Park four years ago. “Is this a country?” This was one of the most frequently shouted rallying cries in the whole period of candlelight demonstrations and it suggested the feeling of participants in a very condensed way.
The demonstrations were very massive and the primary motivation of the participation was anger. Contrary to the usual expectation, however, they were also very orderly and peaceful. Individual demonstrations were more like a festival. On the day announced by the Action, people started to gather in the designated area from the afternoon, alone or with a group of 3 or 4, and some even with their baby in a stroller. Some brought handmade banners ridiculing the situation with wit and humor. Street vendors were already there. On the stage set up by the Action, people made a free speech or sang a song. When the time arrived, the opening ceremony of demonstration began based on the pre-announced order by the Action. When it ended, people started to march, again following the route authorized by the police, or – when it was disputed – by the court a priori. If the demonstrations had not been peaceful, the people would not even have thought of bringing their children and babies, the court would not have allowed them to march as close as to the 100 meter perimeter of the Blue House.
Pressured by the demand of the millions of people, the National Assembly passed the vote on the impeachment of President Park on December 9, with 234 vs 56. But the people did not stop to put pressure on the Constitutional Court until the Court made a ruling upholding the Assembly’s decision with unanimity on March 10, 2017. With the Court’s ruling, Park Geun-hye became the first president who was removed from office during the term since the democratization in 1987 and the series of candlelight demonstration also ended with the 20th round on March 11 in celebration and applause.
Discussions and concluding remarks
As shown in the above, the candlelight demonstrations were triggered by a news report. However, they would not have been possible without angers and discontents accumulated over President Park’s whole term of office by the irregularities, wrongdoings, incomprehensible misbehaviors of her administration. The system of checks and balances in democratic system did not work properly. Although Park Geun-hye became the first president who was removed from office in the middle of the presidential term since 1987, all of the six democratically elected presidents faced unhappy fate near the end of, or after, the term. One may be an outlier, but when it is all of them, we have to suspect more structural problems and defects of the democratic system established in 1987. Indeed, we believe that the candlelight demonstrations and the ensuing presidential impeachment were just an unanticipated expression of the problems and defects built in the Korean democratic system of 1987, which would have found a way out in any form eventually.
The strong presidential power, often described as the “imperial presidency,” has been identified as one of them. But the fact that some of them suffered the unhappy situation like the arrest of family members near the end of term, not after, suggests somewhat different stories. Indeed, a similar pattern has been repeatedly observed, that is, a strong president in the beginning and a very weak president in the end – the Janus Face of the Korean presidency (Jaung, 2010). As a matter of fact, the de-jure constitutional power of Korean president is not so strong to be called the imperial presidency, at least by the well-known index of presidential power such as the Shugart and Carey’s (1992).
However, what the index does not account is the president’s appointment power at the level lower than the prime minister and other cabinet members, and the peculiar characteristics of party politics and voting behavior of Korean electorate. That is, the Korean presidents could control important state institutions, such as the Prosecutors’ Office, the police, the NIS, the National Tax Service, etc., with their appointment power, and through them, the whole society, including Chaebol, the Press, even members of the Assembly, in the beginning of their term. Also, still many of voters in Korea make a decision of whom to vote for based on the regional lines. Thus, it is a very easy winning if the candidate is nominated to the district where the party has a stronghold. So, when the presidents have much to disburse in the beginning of their term, they can easily control the parties, at least the party of their own. However, the loyalty of the appointees and the allies in the Assembly do not last until the end of their term. The allies in the Assembly were usually the first to defect, minding their own election. They also started to attack, or not to defend, the officials in the administrations. Various tips and information on the officials, difficult to be known by the outsiders, are given to the news media and force the officials to resign, accelerating the speed with which the presidents lose their control and de-facto power. These are a typical scene that we have observed in the later part of the president’s term. Simply put, the sophisticated system of checks and balances that is expected in the normal and sound presidential democracy does not work properly from the beginning of the president’s term in South Korea. With the help of remaining long years to govern, the president wields stronger power than is prescribed in the constitution. Malpractices and problems arise, but they are suppressed to report in the early days of the term. However, as the term approaches to the end, the power base of the president becomes eroded and the suppressed wrongdoings are made public. Near the end of the term, the president is much weaker than is prescribed in the constitution. The Park’s administration is no exception, at least in kind.
A public debate on the amendment of the constitution is going on in Korea now. The candlelight demonstrations have given Korea a second chance to restore and renew democracy that have suffered defects and weaknesses since the establishment. But the candlelight demonstrations and the 30 years of experience also suggest a lesson such that the defects cannot be removed by changing the institutional arrangements at the highest level only. It requires much more than that, including more encompassing institutional reforms as well as social, economic, cultural ones. We believe that this will also be instructive for the new democracies that experienced similar problems (e.g. Diamond, 2002; Merkel, 2004).
It is worthwhile to note that it is not just a new democracy that is in jeopardy now. Even in the most consolidated democracies, people are reported to have been losing their trust in politicians and their confidence in the democratic institutions as a whole, as we can see in the gradual decline in the turnout rate worldwide, the rise of anti-establishment, antisystem, far-right parties and the spread of protest movements such as “the Occupy Wall Street,” “los indignados,” etc. The ties between the national politics and the civil society are getting weakened and the relationships between them are getting tenser and more violent. The candlelight demonstrations were massive but orderly and peaceful. The candlelight citizens were self-disciplined and prudent. So, we believe that the candlelight demonstrations are a new type of social movement that differs from other protest movements and that it is a time to study what makes the difference. When we know the answer, we might need to reconsider the balance of power between the ruler and the ruled in a modern representative democracy.
Dates and sizes of candlelight demonstrations
|Round||Date||Police estimates||The Action’s estimates||Accumulated (based on the Action’s)|
|1||October 29, 2016||12,000||50,000||50,000|
|11||January 7, 2017||38,000||643,380||10,849,380|
Sources: Press releases by the police for the police estimates. Police did not release estimates from the 12th round of candlelight demonstrations. For the Action’s estimates, www.bisang2016.net
Also see www.fes.de/menschenrechtspreis/ (accessed January 2, 2018).
The first round of candlelight demonstrations took place on October 29, the first Saturday after the JTBC, a private broadcasting company, reported a news that Choi Soon-sil, a childhood friend of President Park, had reviewed and corrected several important president’s speeches before they were officially delivered, based on the analyses of the tablet PC found in the abandoned office of Choi. Since then, candlelight demonstrations were organized in almost every Saturday night. The last twentieth round of demonstrations was held on March 11, 2017, the Saturday of the week when the Constitutional Court’s ruling was made public. The information on the rounds of weekly candlelight demonstration is available at the homepage of the organizing committee, the Emergency Nationwide Action for the Resignation of Park Geun-Hye (translated by the author), which is an association of more than 1,500 civic groups, labor unions and student organization(<www.bisang2016.net, accessed December 29, 2017). The organizing committee took the award on behalf of Koreans in the Award ceremony on December 5, 2017 (The Korea Herald, 2017).
Without the candlelight demonstrations and the presidential impeachment, the 19th presidential election was to be held on December 19.
When the candlelight demonstrations were reaching the climax, those who opposed the demand of the candlelight demonstrations and wanted to defend the incumbent, President Park, started to organize their own protest movements. They are often referred to as the Taegukgi demonstrations, as they used the national flag (Taegukgi) as a symbol of patriotism in their gatherings.
To make it clear, we are not criticizing the impatience. We are stressing the perceived severity of the situations that drove people out to the streets in the freezing winter time.
The people’s movement in 1987 that eventually overthrew the neo-military authoritarian regime who seized the political power through the December 12th coup in 1979 and the brutal suppression of the Gwangju Popular Uprising in May 1980 is known as the June Democratic Uprising in Korean history. For a brief English introduction of the Korean history of democratization movement, see Choi (2005) and Jung and Kim (1993).
The head of the NIS was found guilty on the other charge of violation of the law on the NIS. A relevant question would be “why did the head of the SPO, appointed by the president, allow the indictment that could seriously damage the legitimacy of the president?” As will be seen later, the subordinate relationship of the prosecutor’s office to the president through the appointment power has been pointed out as one of the most serious defects of the Korean political system of 1987. The fact is that President Park had to take some reform measures after her election because of the pledge she made as a candidate. During the campaign period, the level of public demand for the reform of the Prosecutor’s office was very high due to a series of scandals related to the prosecutors. Therefore, she had to choose one out of three candidates recommended by the relatively neutral Recommendation Committee for the Head of the SPO. That is, the autonomy of her appointment power was relatively restricted when she appointed the head of the SPO in April, 2003. But the appointee’s tenure in office lasted for only six months.
The Sewol ferry, carrying 476 passengers, sank on the morning of April 16, 2014. A total of 304 were dead, including those whose remains are still not found, and most of them were high school students, who were on board for a field trip to Jeju Island. What really infuriated the public was that the president Park, who was ultimately responsible for the rescue operation, did not show up for 7 h after she was informed of the sinking. The missing 7 h of the president Park is still unknown.
The first South Korean MERS case was reported on May 20, 2015. A total of 186 cases have been infected, with a death toll of 36 (World Health Organization, 2015). People criticized the government for withholding essential information that could be used to contain the spread at an earlier stage. The incident was perceived to be another sign of government’s inability to handle national disasters, like the sinking of the Sewol ferry.
Besides these incidents, President Park pushed aggressively some policy measures during her term of office despite severe objection from the opposition and the public, including “the national history textbook” authorized by the government for the middle and high school students and “the Korea–Japan agreement on the matter of comport women.”
About eight months later, when the Assembly voted for the impeachment on December 9, 234 votes were cast for the impeachment, in the anonymous voting. It has been presumed that this non-park group voted for the impeachment. In order to pass the impeachment, more than 200 votes were required. Therefore, the impeachment might not have been successful without the internal division within the Saenuri party, which had 128 seats at the time of voting.
Choi Soon sil’s name started to appear in media coverage in the early stage of Park’s term. However, at that time, she was mentioned as an ex-wife of Jung Yoon-hoi, who used be a legislative aide of Park Geun-hye from 1998 – when Park started her political career – till 2006, a year before the 18th presidential election in which Park competed against Lee Myung-bak to win the nomination of presidential candidate of the Hannara party (the former name of Saenuri party). It was suspected that he voluntarily quit his job to conceal the relationship with Park. In the early stage of the President Park’s tenure, it happened that several nominees by the president to important government posts, including prime minister, withdrew their candidacies facing intense objections questioning their qualification. Most of the defeated nominee were not well known to the public, even to the administration’s high ranking officials. Reports said, they were picked up in the president’s personal note. So, news media and people started to suspect the existence of biseon (meaning secret line in Korean) organization – “the small, informal, and behind-the-scene network of close personal confidents maintained by the president” (Choi, 2005, p. 185), and they also suspected it was Jung who led the biseon, not Choi, at that time. Another episode relating to the Jung and Choi couple was the demotion of officials in the Ministry of Culture and Sports. According to a report, the president ordered the ministry an extraordinary inspection on the National Equestrian Association that oversaw a national competition where the couple’s daughter took the second place. When the officials submitted a report that was not in favor of the daughter, President Park told the minister to demote those who wrote the inspection report while referring them as “bad guys” (Hankyoreh, 2014).
Although the freedom of assembly is a constitutional right, in order to use a space to hold a demonstration or to march the roads, especially when it is planned after the sunset, those who organize the gathering have to inform the authority – including the police – in written documents and get a permission a priori by law. The title of the first demonstration in the document to get the necessary permission was “Join us! Be angry! Resign, Park Geun-hye!” The titles of the rest of demonstrations were serially numbered, suggesting the continuation of the demonstrations until the achievement of the goal – the removal of President Park from office.
The Emergency National Convention was convened to discuss the forming of the Action on November 2, three days before the second demonstrations on November 5. The Action was launched on November 9 with a press conference. The information is available at the Action’s homepage, www.bisang2016.net (accessed January 5, 2018).
In the evening of designated dates, candlelight demonstrations took place in major cities of the nationwide. The size of the participants is the sum of participants of the nationwide candlelight demonstrations.
Min and Yun (2019) asked the same question in their own survey of 1,230 participants on the same day, November 26. 40.7 percent of their respondents chose “friends” and 30 percent “family members.”
Min and Yun (2019) also found similar result such that the mean value of the anger index is 4.77 out of 5 (extreme), with a standard deviation of 0.015.
The title of the manifesto book by Moon Jae-in in the 19th presidential election was “Making the country a country.”
The article 11 of the law on assembly and demonstration prohibits them within the 100 meter perimeter of the Blue House. However, no previous demonstration was allowed to approach to such a close range. The police have not allowed and the court have upheld the decision of police when the protesters ask the court to suspend it. In the series of candlelight demonstrations, however, the court made successive rulings that allowed the march to get closer to the prescribed range, based on the “peaceful manner of the demonstration in the previous week.” Finally, the march could approach to the 100 meter perimeter on December 3.
The first democratically elected President, Roh Tae-woo, was sentenced to 17 years of imprisonment for his involvement in coup d’état and collecting illicit political fund in the trial after his term, though he was later pardoned. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-joong were forced out of their own parties near the end of their term due to corruption scandals involving their sons. Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide while an investigation on bribery scandal involving his close associates was going on. Currently, investigations are going on against the 18th president, Lee Myung-bak.
The power of the Korean president is 17th place out of 44, surveyed in Shugart and Carey (1992).
The four government agencies listed here, combined together, are often called “The Four Major Power Agencies” in Korea, based on their strong and monopolistic control power over their respective jurisdictions. Appropriate level of attention has not yet been paid to the appointment power of these government posts in the literature on president’s formal power (e.g. Shugart and Carey, 1992; Frye, 1997). Virtually all of business corporations would not be secure when they are targeted by these agencies, especially when they are big. Or the corporations may actively cooperate with the government to avoid potential threat or to gain some special favor. Indeed, most of Chaebols in South Korea have maintained close relationship with government, especially in the authoritarian era. The very fact that most of the former presidents were involved with bribery scandals (footnote. 20) suggests that the close relationship between the government and business has not changed a lot even after the democratization.
The current constitution, amended as a result of democratization movement in 1987, prohibits the incumbent president from running for reelection. Thus, the president has only a single five year term. The approval ratings of all of the former presidents after the democratization in 1987 have shown a declining trend, except for a few months of honeymoon period immediately after their assumption of office. As the term of president reaches to the end, the declining trend has been accelerated. Minding their own reelection, the allies in the National Assembly start to make a distance from the unpopular president, so does rank and file members of the government agencies. And the president’s appointees lose their control over these members.
A more detailed explanation and analysis on the Janus Face of the Korean presidency (Jaung, 2010) can be found in Bae and Park’s article in this issue.
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